Lawmakers, health officials seek to bridge the broadband internet gap in SC

Updated: Aug. 3, 2020 at 5:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A lack of broadband internet continues to plague hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians, creating barriers for students trying to learn virtually and for people trying to access healthcare remotely.

On Monday, Senator Lindsey Graham met with healthcare leaders across the state ahead of introducing a bill this week called the Governor’s Broadband Development Fund, which seeks to bridge the broadband internet gaps across the country.

“Can you imagine living your life today without electricity?” Graham said in remarks after the discussion. “If you don’t have broadband, you are in many ways just as in the dark as if you don’t have any electricity in your house.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham will talk about the benefits of telemedicine and how to expand its use across the state.

The bill gives $10 billion to the Broadband Development Fund and would focus on bringing broadband to areas that don’t have it while reducing the cost of the service. It is co-sponsored by Graham, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).

South Carolina would receive roughly $170 million from this program. Each state is provided a minimum of $75 million and the rest is distributed on this basis of state population.

It will allow Governor Henry McMaster to speed up the development of broadband in areas where there is the greatest need, provide free or reduced cost for broadband service, as well as other community center improvements.

The Federal Communications Commission reports that about 21 million Americans do not have access to high-speed internet right now with about 650,000 in South Carolina.

On Monday, officials discussed the crucial role telemedicine has played during the pandemic, and how every South Carolina needs broadband internet to have access to it.

“This, to me, is an absolute medical essential requirement to have broadband throughout the country to expand on telemedicine. The benefits of this technology are endless and, when it comes to schools and distance learning, you need it there just as much as you do on the health side,” Graham said.

A spokesperson for the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance said the number of telehealth visits has skyrocketed in recent months, with there being over 350,000 telehealth visits during the month of April.

The South Carolina Telehealth Alliance said there were about half a million telehealth visits for the entire year of 2019.

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