As of May 13, Richland County, South Carolina, which encompasses the capital city Columbia, will be the first certified Connected capital community in the nation. Determination and community solidarity led Richland County to certification, with efforts beginning in 2013 and then reemerging in 2014.
“It was the perfect opportunity to see exactly what we have in the community and start improving broadband in the area,” said Dale Welch, network telecommunications division chief for Richland County. Enthusiasm was evident across the county, with participation from businesses, schools, libraries, healthcare networks and others. The first priority in reaching certification is the broadband survey, which measures broadband assets and availability in the area.
“People went back to work and it lost momentum. We had trouble getting people to participate in the survey,” said Welch. The broadband survey is a concentrated community effort that requires involvement of businesses and institutions, as well as residents across the area.
Working with information technology students at the University of South Carolina, Richland County received extra manpower for a second try. Students of Dr. Karen P. Patten, Assistant Professor of Integrated Information Technology at USC, divided into teams across the community and organized a method of conducting the survey.
“Our biggest hurdle was getting out into the community and collecting the data. We literally had to put boots on the ground to do the survey,” said Welch. “The students were very creative in getting the information.” The students conducted the project as a part of an upper level IT class and the county benefited from the completed survey. With the information collected and compiled, Richland County was able to pinpoint areas of need and coverage and develop an action plan for expansion. Richland County now moves forward as the first Connected Certified Capital Community, with big plans for further development.
An inventory of vertical assets is next on the list, as well as city ordinances that may affect broadband expansion. This makes it easier for broadband providers to lay new infrastructure in areas the survey revealed are underserved. The county is also pursuing next generation 911 upgrades, allowing callers to text or even send videos of accidents or other incidents to emergency responders. The creation of homework hotspots is also on the agenda, bringing wifi to churches and other community centers where students without broadband access at home can work on homework under appropriate supervision.
Richland County will celebrate its status as a Connected Community on May 13 alongside the Connections 2015 conference in Columbia. With the survey and plan established, community leaders hope to inspire surrounding areas to continue these vital works across the state. To learn more about broadband initiatives in South Carolina and across the country, visit Connected Community Engagement Program website.
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