COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Many people rely on the internet for work, school and even their social lives, but the coronavirus pandemic continues to shine a light on how many South Carolinians are truly in the dark when it comes to internet access.
Some families say their children need to go back to in-person classroom learning because a lack of internet options has them falling behind in school, as well as their work and social lives.
Stephanie Singleton lives on Pine Plain Road in Lexington County with her two children, who attend schools in Lexington Four.
She runs an online business from her home off of her cell phone hot spot, which she says makes streaming meetings and live videos almost impossible.
“Sometimes I even have to go outside, just so I can get good signal,” she explained.
Her children also can’t live stream with their teachers and struggle to keep up with their online work.
“We can’t all use it at one time because it’s so slow we don’t get anything done, so it’s almost a struggle between if I get to work in the morning or if they get to do their schoolwork,” she said.
Just one door down, Singleton’s brother-in-law Wil and his daughter Chloe also struggle with Wi-Fi.
Wil Singleton pays $75 a month for a signal booster just so Chloe can complete online assignments, but that still doesn’t allow her to video chat with her teacher or classmates because the service is so poor.
“I feel like it’s a disadvantage for my daughter,” he explained. “I feel like she is getting slowly left behind because of the internet issue. I’m really worried about her. We’ve considered moving. And I live here on family land with all my family, and we’ve talked about moving just to get better internet. It’s that serious.”
Neighbor Dora Sox just moved to Pine Plain Road, and she says the $150 she pays each month for satellite internet doesn’t even allow her to conduct meetings at home.
“I would have to go to a Starbucks and sit in the car and do the call from the car because I would have to have some sort of reliable internet,” she said.
About a mile on either side of the road, people have options for AT&T and Spectrum. But Sox says when she called both companies, they said they weren’t expanding their service, and it would cost her $70,000 to run a line to her home.
“I feel like companies could help us,” she said. “It’s just no one is thinking that this is an issue. I guess because they don’t have the issue at their own home.”
This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham plans to introduce a bill to bridge broadband internet gaps across the country. If it passes, South Carolina would receive roughly $170 million from that program.
“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,” Graham said.
But the Singleton families say they need that high speed internet now because without it, they feel they have no other choice but to send their children back to the classroom for hybrid learning.
“I think they could do great virtually if we had the right internet access, but it wasn’t an option,” Stephanie Singleton said.
Even though the Singleton families are sending their children back for two days a week in-person, they’re still worried about what they are going to do the other three days their kids are expected to learn at home.
CARES Act funding totaling $50 million has been approved for broadband expansion in South Carolina. However, some experts say it could cost up to $800 million and five years to connect every household to high-speed internet.