Recent News // Effort underway to bring broadband to Promise Zone counties

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Getting connected is considered by many people to be essential in today’s world of smartphones and computers, but getting connected in rural areas has long been considered too costly and an out-of-reach dream.

Maybe not, if people involved with the South Carolina Lowcountry Promise Zone have anything to do with it.

When SouthernCarolina Alliance staff working on Promise Zone initiatives polled stakeholders in the six-county area of Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties in recent months, they targeted the development of broadband Internet networks as their top priority in both near-term projects and long-term transformational networks.

“Having these networks will help achieve economic development and community development goals by making the region more attractive to business growth, thereby reducing poverty and creating more community opportunities,” states the SCPZ strategic action plan.

That’s why a broadband workshop in Barnwell on March 23 drew representatives from Connect SC, Atlantic Broadband, AT&T, Century Link and Palmetto Rural Telephone Corporation as well as those from the United States Department of Agriculture (who oversees some federal Promise Zone programs), universities, colleges, council of governments and local people.

A challenge in many areas of the country is “getting people all to move in the same direction,” said Brandon McBride, administrator of Rural Utilities Service in Washington, D.C. “What you are doing here is not common.”

Integral to the effort is funding from the federal government. “We are helping this area to compete regionally and nationally,” said Michelle Cardwell, acting state director of USDA Rural Development.

One enlightenment to many was that there is already an effort to improve the quality of connectivity in the Promise Zone area. Many of the companies are already one year into a federally-funded project to “install Internet to areas that have none,” said Jim Stritzinger of Connect SC, a non-profit organization tasked with developing the geographic information system (GIS) or simply, maps, of Internet availability in the state.

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