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State-Wide Collaborative Unites Rural Communities to Advance Digital Equity

Rural road in S.C.
Joy Bonala
/
SCETV
In many rural areas of South Carolina, broadband internet access is not available, but federal investments in broadband infrastructure are helping more communities connect.

On a windy afternoon earlier this month, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn along with about 50 stakeholders from across the state celebrated a successful broadband pilot project in Allendale, South Carolina which created internet access for 1,000 homes in 61 days.

Jim Stritzinger, the broadband coordinator for South Carolina, said the Allendale Broadband Pilot Project is the first of many similar projects aimed at advancing digital equity in South Carolina.

“My goal is to solve broadband in the state of South Carolina in three years,” Stritzinger said. “Everybody all in, digital equity for all in three years.”

Digital equity is making the internet available and affordable for everyone. But across the United States, millions of people live in places where broadband internet access doesn’t exist.

In South Carolina, roughly 193,000 households struggle to connect. According to Stritzinger, that number is shrinking fast because of federal investments. But deploying physical infrastructure is only one part of the process, the real key to advancing digital equity is making sure the technology is adopted.

Digital literacy and affordability challenges are sometimes best tackled by non-profit agencies coming together, Stritzinger said.

Paola Gutierrez is a lead strategist at the South Carolina Office of Rural Health. She’s also moderator for a group called the digital equity collaborative or DEC. They meet monthly on Zoom to share ideas about digital projects happening statewide.

“The goal of the DEC is to ensure that all organizations involved in digital equity have a voice and also have a role in closing the digital poverty gap,” Gutierrez said.

Anyone can join the collaborative. The group currently consists of internet providers, community-based organizations and statewide entities. Gutierrez said representatives from rural communities help identify specific needs in each rural area of the state.

“There’s so many resources in our urban cities and rural areas have that potential as well,” Gutierrez said. “We have the desire, the talent, the space, and it’s just a matter of getting everyone together and getting organized to have those opportunities in rural areas.”