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Lawmaker: Internet Access Growing Slower Than Conversation

There's been little material progress when it comes to improving broadband access in some areas of South Carolina, but one reason for hope is that the larger discussion has grown, State Sen. Shane Massey says.

by Colin Demarest, Aiken Standard / January 10, 2020

(TNS) — Though there's been little material progress made when it comes to improving broadband access in the Aiken and Edgefield areas, the larger discussion has grown, and that's a step in the right direction, S.C. Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said Thursday.

"So I do think there's been incremental progress made there, because there's a whole lot more conversation now about it than there was a year ago," the Edgefield Republican said during a 2020 legislative workshop for the media. "So I think that's good, and you've got to have the conversation before you can have the actual changes made."

Last year, Massey said internet access — or lack thereof — was a serious issue in the Palmetto State, particularly in the more-rural swaths. Brendan Carr, a Federal Communications Commission executive, made a similar point during a visit to Aiken County.

"I mean, I'm a rural guy. I see it," said Massey, who has likened access to essential infrastructure. "That's probably one of the most frequent calls I get from people complaining about things, is that they don't have access to broadband."

As of September 2018, thousands of Aiken County residents lacked access to even the most basic internet service. Access in Aiken County is most prevalent in downtown Aiken, around the bypass, near the Savannah River Site and in the North Augusta region, including Augusta, Georgia, according to a study handled by the Center for Applied Innovation and Advanced Analytics at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Internet access all but disappears near Windsor, along Wagener Road and in areas flanking Interstate 20. State Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, who spoke on the same panel as the senate majority leader Thursday, said many rural communities "can't grow" because they lack sufficient access to internet and technology, more broadly.

Eliminating broadband deserts, both Massey and Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Will Williams have recognized, is not an overnight affair. The majority leader on Thursday described it as "frustratingly slow" — especially for those without a connection in the first place.

"There's a long tail when you look at closing this digital divide," Carr, the FCC commissioner, said in 2019.

Piecemeal progress, though, does not mean the government should dive in head first in an attempt to save the day, Massey cautioned, pointing to private sector domination. A government-saturated approach would just lead to a breakdown, he said, "because that's what happens when we get involved with stuff. It's going to break down."

Burying and installing the necessary cable can cost thousands of dollars per mile.

"It's really hard to run 10 miles of cable in the ground if you've only got three customers," Williams has said, "and that's what so many people don't realize."

©2020 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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