South Carolina has an internet disparity, and we desperately need to eliminate it. Estimates of how many South Carolinians lack access to the internet at acceptable high-speed rates (enough to email, video conference, and download files – 25 megabits per second)) range from 400,000 to 650,000 residents. That is roughly 10 to 11% of South Carolinians and about 180,000 do not have access to the internet at all.
We know this has caused enormous problems for education in 2020, as 200,000 students fell behind when schools transitioned to virtual learning. In a time when healthcare is more important than ever, hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians are left without telehealth options. Thankfully, bipartisan efforts are mitigating the situation for some households. The state has allocated $50 million from federal COVID-19 aid funding to mitigate the situation with strategies like hot spots, but it will not be enough for all South Carolinians and it does not provide a permanent solution.
Truthfully, the internet disparity has caused problems in more areas than education and healthcare and has been around much longer than COVID-19. Businesses and law enforcement agencies suffer from slow-downs related to lack of internet access, causing job loss and delays in serving justice. Company workers must be able to communicate with each other at effective speeds to keep production and revenue up, and law enforcement needs to be able to transmit data quickly to prosecutors, such as body camera footage from an officer-involved shooting. Equitable access to high-speed internet across the state will result in better education, healthcare, business growth, and law enforcement for all South Carolinians. It is time for us to work together on federal, state, and local levels to provide internet to South Carolina.