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Technology Task Force Drives Connectivity Improvements in South Carolina

In December 2014, Hilton Head Island was certified as South Carolina’s fourth Connected community. Today, the groups that helped to improve broadband expansion and adoption in the area continue to move forward, breaking through obstacles to improve connectivity and access for everyone.

Primarily a tourism and vacation spot along the coast of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island’s broadband expansion developments met with barriers based on the migratory tourism economy. With approximately 70% of the town based in gated communities, with strict rules as to the infrastructure available, local and nationwide telecommunications companies were unable to establish towers in the area. Unreliable cell phone coverage supported by a small number of towers first spurred the community to investigate their telecommunications network. A group of volunteers with backgrounds in technology and telecommunications took on the challenge and formed the Information Technology Taskforce in an effort to change the area’s wireless climate.

Inviting AT&T and Verizon Wireless officials to meet with the town revealed that the strict rules in gated communities were barring the construction of cell phone towers. In response, rules were relaxed and a tower was built in a gated community for the first time in 20 years. The success turned the taskforce’s and the community’s attention to other aspects of the network, such as broadband connectivity.

“That worked so well, we wondered what else we could work on,” said Jim Collet, Information Technology Taskforce Chairman. “We heard about Connected Nation and Connect South Carolina and we thought that would be a good model to follow.” Working with AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, Connect South Carolina and the Technology Taskforce were able to add 17 more telecomm antennas across the city to improve wireless access and cell phone coverage. The broadband survey of the area revealed a high level of access to broadband connectivity but also a lower level of usage and understanding, indicating the resources were underutilized. By increasing awareness and adding instruction, Hilton Head Island completed Connected certification.

Since partnering with Connect South Carolina and receiving a Connected community designation, Hilton Head Island has become a primary resource in expanding broadband access and adoption across the surrounding area of Beaufort County. The Beaufort County school system has since started a tablet program for students, giving children a chance to interact with technology early on and learn in new ways. The Technology Taskforce continues to build up broadband infrastructure in Hilton Head to diversify and strengthen their economic base, starting with a fiber network in the community to attract businesses. Increasing broadband access to Beaufort County is next on the agenda, as well as furthering adoption, understanding, and awareness on Hilton Head Island.

With plans organized and a group of passionate, talented volunteers to carry the momentum forward, Hilton Head Island’s Connected certification reveals new opportunities for the community and a chance to spread their success to neighbors. Connect South Carolina and Connected Nation will continue to support their efforts moving forward toward reaching new milestones.