South Carolina Reaches Out

Connecting rural South Carolina is the job of the state-run satellite TV network.

by / August 31, 1997
In South Carolina, television means much more than entertainment. It means saving time and money and connecting people through the South Carolina Educational Television (SC ETV) system . SC ETV is a 135-channel digital satellite system run by the state,

By Justine Kavanaugh-Brown
Features Editor

but it offers more than public television. Ninety-nine percent of the system is devoted to education and training resources for K-12 schools, higher education, business and industry, government agencies and law enforcement.

"With the capacity of our system, we're able to offer digital downlink services to all these entities," said Reba Campbell, director of government relations at SC ETV. "Just about anybody who's interested in the service can find something of use on it."

SC ETV was created after a 1957 study determined a closed circuit television service might benefit mostly rural South Carolina in a number of ways. In 1960, the South Carolina General Assembly created the SC ETV Commission and launched the program. Today, the satellite system literally reaches every corner of the state.

SC ETV features 900 daily hours of broadcasting -- more than all four major TV networks combined -- which can be transmitted to various field sites via satellite. "We've got about 1,600 downlink sites on the satellite system right now," said Campbell. "By September, every K-12 school in the state will have a downlink dish and three receivers."

Reaching Out

State and local government agencies are currently using SC ETV primarily for teleconferencing. "We have connected all of our district sites to SC ETV," said Martha Menchinger, director of communication resources at the Department of Health and Environmental Control, one of the three largest agencies in the state. "We have 13 field sites, which are our big health districts, and we do live broadcasting via our TV studio here in Charleston and send it out to them."

Menchinger said the department has used SC ETV to videoconference on just about every topic imaginable -- from training workers on how to fill out new forms, to sharing information about various medical conditions, to conducting public hearings. "The interactivity is really what makes it valuable, because people can stay at their sites around the state and still are able to call in and ask questions," said Menchinger. "It's great for any kind of continuing education or training."

Menchinger said her agency expects to videoconference via SC ETV at least 25 times this year.

South Carolina's Department of Transportation (DOT) also uses SC ETV to reach employees all over the state. "We have more than 5,300 employees statewide and it's just not feasible to shut down our operations for a day -- which is what it would take to bring everyone into the state capital," said Reggie Hall, director of communications and creative services for the South Carolina Department of Transportation. "SC ETV allows us to set up regional locations at reception sites for the SC ETV signal and makes it a lot more efficient for us to communicate to our employees."

DOT uses SC ETV sporadically as needed. "A couple of years ago we had about four teleconferences in one year while there were a lot of structural changes going on throughout the agency," said Hall. "We've averaged maybe two a year since then. We had one in January when a new executive director was named for the agency. It provided her with a way to reach out and let everyone know what her leadership philosophy is and what our goals as an agency are."

While that particular videoconference was a one-way video feed, Hall says the typical scenario is to allow two-way communication from a reception site back to the studio, so questions can be answered and concerns can be addressed as if the
whole group was meeting in the same room.

Although DOT doesn't use the videoconferencing services as much as the Department of Health and Environmental Control, it does utilize SC ETV's uplink facilities. "If we're
handling a media event, we can film it ourselves and transmit the video via SC ETV to TV stations. Since SC ETV is a TV station, they can get a good rate, whereas if I were to go out commercially, I'd pay a lot more for it."

Hall says DOT uses SC ETV uplinks about four times a year to feed video out to TV stations in bordering states such as North Carolina and Georgia. "We've had federal transportation officials in before who can only make one stop in the state, so we'll cover that and then uplink it to everyone else."


SC ETV's two on-site production studios also allow them to produce quality programming for schools, businesses and state agencies as part of several specialty services. The Hometown Network broadcasts courses from the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government -- such as "You've Been Elected -- Now What" -- and other training sessions to municipal officials on a regional basis. Meanwhile, the Public Services Network (PSN) serves South Carolina's law enforcement and legal services personnel. As members of PSN, law enforcement officers, emergency medical personnel, magistrates, firefighters and other public safety officers in the state have access to training opportunities.

The Crime to Court Home Page is a video-based training package specifically for law enforcement personnel. SC ETV, in cooperation with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, is producing monthly programs, including one that dramatizes and discusses current Supreme Court or federal court decisions which impact the field of law enforcement.

SC ETV also features master's degree programs in business administration, library and information services, and engineering.

But SC ETV's staple continues to be teleconferencing services, with more than 1,000 teleconferences held a year. "They've had their transitions -- from microwave to a digital satellite system -- and there's been times when we've actually lost our signal, which is frustrating," said Menchinger. "But we try to work with them whatever happens, because there's no replacement for the convenience we gain."

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