Clyburn, Biden administration officials tout broadband investments during infrastructure law tour

Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 7:56 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2022 at 8:23 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina is hoping to get everyone in the state connected to high-speed internet at home and work within the next few years, thanks in large part to a major influx of money coming in from the federal government.

According to the South Carolina Broadband Office, which oversees the state’s broadband expansion and grants, about one in 10 South Carolinians lack this connectivity.

Between two major pieces of legislation from the Biden administration, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, South Carolina will receive about half-a-billion dollars to bring broadband to more people. The Broadband Office currently estimates it will cost more than $600 million to get everyone connected.

For Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, who represents large swaths of the state’s rural regions in his Columbia-to-Charleston Congressional district, the payoff from that investment can’t come soon enough.

“The governor has assured me that his goal is to build out every residence and every business in three to five years,” Clyburn said.

The longtime Congressman, South Carolina’s only current Democrat on Capitol Hill, joined White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Friday in Orangeburg, as part of a 30-state tour over three weeks in which Biden administration officials are promoting the infrastructure law, which passed Congress with bipartisan support in 2021.

Along with other events to discuss the administration’s investment in historically Black colleges and universities and the infrastructure law’s allocations for clean water, the group stopped at the Orangeburg County Library to highlight the law’s focus on internet access. Broadband expansion, particularly in rural areas, has been a key push for Clyburn over the years.

“In today’s day and age, if you don’t have broadband, you can’t go to school, you can’t go to the doctor, you can’t fill out applications online, and it’s time we close the digital divide, close it for everyone, and close it once and for all,” Raimondo told reporters.

As of September 2021, more than 427,000 South Carolinians had little to no internet access at home, representing about 8.3% of the state’s population. That includes nearly 50,000 of the state’s K-12 students in public schools.

South Carolina’s Broadband Office reports more than 220,000 households fall into this category.

Raimondo said part of the broadband allocations from the infrastructure law will go toward laying the fiber, and another part will be put to train workers to do this, creating jobs in the process.

The law also sets aside money for lower-income Americans to receive a $30 voucher each month for internet service, according to Raimondo, and every carrier that receives government money from the law will have to make that service affordable.

“So we’re not going to give a dime to any carrier unless they show us, prove to us, certify, that they will be offering, as part of their offerings, an affordable plan, and we’ll be working with them to define what’s affordable,” Raimondo said.

According to the White House, money from the infrastructure law has already been sent to states, and more than 200,000 South Carolinians are already enrolled in the affordable broadband voucher program.

“The goal, as the president said, is to get the money to the ground. It actually is here,” Landrieu said.

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