COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Right now, there are thousands of South Carolinians without access to high-speed internet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the digital divide in the state and lawmakers are hoping to bridge that gap.
Thursday, the House unanimously passed a bill that would improve access to broadband in rural and underserved areas in the state. The bill was passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
“It’s good to see the state taking an interest in getting broadband facilities deployed in areas that need it,” said Palmetto Rural Telephone Company CEO Jason Dandridge.
The bill would give incentives to small cooperatives to work together with internet providers. These providers would be able to use the power, telephone lines, and poles that are already set up across the state to run their services to these households without internet services.
Lawmakers said this is just the beginning and more legislation is expected in 2021. Representative Seth Rose (D-Richland) said this will benefit all South Carolinians.
“This can also be an economic engine because companies want to go where they can have fast Internet and good broadband. From that, we can see an economic boom,” Rose said.
Many called Thursday a great day in South Carolina, but some said they are disappointed that they had to find such a creative way to get internet to some families.
Cooperatives and telecommunication companies said since fiber optic wire for the internet is in such high demand right now, they are asking for patience.
“Broadband deployment is not something you can go out there and wave a magic wand and it’s there overnight,” Dandridge said.
Lawmakers hope more federal grants can be used to incentivize companies to help get faster internet in the underserved areas soon.
The bill is now on it’s way to Governor Henry McMaster’s desk.