South Carolina Lawmakers Seek to Fix "Digital Divide"
by Tom Barton
COLUMBIA — Orders were coming in and business was brisk, yet dozens of jobs hung in the balance for a rural S.C. manufacturer — all because of lagging internet.
“The company was growing, but we could not reliably communicate with our (global) customers ... because of either insufficient or unreliable service,” said David Cline, owner of Piedmont CMG, near Ware Shoals.
The company machines manifolds, tubing and other plastic components for the medical device industry at plants in Greenwood and Abbeville. But frequent drops in internet service meant workers could not download blueprints and files from its customers due to “extremely limited” bandwidth, Cline said.
“We also couldn’t talk amongst ourselves reliably,” he said, noting difficulty communicating between the company’s production facilities. “Weather, sometimes affected service, along with squirrels or rodents chewing on the lines.
“There were extreme limitations, even on a good day.”
As state officials debate ways to lift up blighted rural communities, a common obstacle is standing in their way: high-speed internet access.
to lagging rural broadband access, according to the latest federal data. Those broadband deserts hurt efforts to expand health care, education and workforce development.
A bipartisan group of S.C. lawmakers hopes to fix that.
A bill in the state House would provide state grants to help pay for the cost to expand broadband in economically distressed counties in the state. Applicants would be required to show that local residents, government, businesses and institutions support the project, according to the bill. State officials could claw back grant money if companies fail to keep their promises, including advertised connection speeds.
State money would be supplemented with federal dollars, and grant recipients would be required to provide matching funds.
Supporters say the state’s help in closing the digital divide is long overdue.
“We do it with water. We do it with sewer. We bring in roads,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brian White, a Republican from rural Anderson County. “But, somehow, when it comes to the internet, we just don’t do it.”
Read the original article here and learn just how many people in South Carolina lack broadband.