Kennedy: Let’s hear more from presidential candidates about how to expand rural broadband access

February 28, 2020 The Post and Courier logo

Excerpt of guest column by Lou Kennedy in The (Charleston) Post and Courier:

When I visited U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn in his Capitol office last year, he shared a story with me about children in South Carolina who have to do their homework from the parking lot of a library or McDonald’s, rather than at home.


These children – many of whom live in traditionally overlooked and underserved rural areas of our state — do not have access to reliable high-speed internet. He told us there are families that travel across town or across a county each night just to find a connection.

I was moved. In a state and nation as great as ours, I thought, children deserve better. They should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams. And we must ensure they have the opportunity because they are our future leaders in business and politics, and they are our workforce.

There are few issues more critical to the long-term economic health of our state than access to reliable broadband internet. That’s why I want to hear more from Democratic candidates for president, who have swept across our state ahead of Saturday’s primary, as well as candidates up and down the ballot, about what they will do to bridge this digital divide.

Estimates of how many South Carolinians lack access to this fundamental tool range from at least 577,000 to many millions. Lexington County, home to our West Columbia headquarters, enjoys stronger broadband connectivity than most counties in the state. Data from the Federal Communications Commission says 94 percent of the county has access to broadband service.

Travel beyond Lexington County, and access to broadband connectivity falls off dramatically. In Calhoun and Orangeburg counties, less than 60 percent of the population has access to broadband, according to the FCC. In Saluda County, fewer than 30 percent of people have broadband access.

The true scale of the challenge is likely far greater. Microsoft usage data says only 45 percent of Lexington County residents access the internet at broadband speeds. Broadband-speed usage falls precipitously in neighboring counties to just 15 percent in Orangeburg, 6 percent in Calhoun and 5 percent in Saluda.

This digital divide separates our communities between suburban and rural, and between haves and have nots. And for those stuck behind the broadband gap, a lack of connectivity can affect every facet of life.

Read Kennedy’s entire guest column at The Post and Courier.