SC Gov. In a statewide speech on Wednesday, Henry McMaster posed several questions to his audience at Palmetto State, including, “Can you imagine what our people could do if we were all connected via broadband?”
The Republican governor used the rhetorical flair to make a point home — that Internet access is vital as homework, telemedicine, and distance learning are booming, and South Carolina just needs to do better.
“Quality Internet service has quickly become not a luxury, but a necessity for the prosperity of our state and our people,” said McMaster during his 2022 State of the State Address.
According to studies and other mapping projects over the years, thousands of Aiken County residents do not have access to adequate internet services. Access is most common near Aiken, North Augusta, the Savannah River Site, and parts in between; it is shrinking or disappearing in the rural east, around Windsor and New Holland.
“The vast expanse of eastern Aiken County is a broadband desert,” said State Representative Bill Taylor, an Aiken Republican representing the area. The coronavirus pandemic, he added, “has given us the best evidence ever that the lack of broadband connectivity in rural South Carolina is having a devastating impact. Children cannot learn. Business cannot be done as in cities.”
McMaster on Wednesday urged lawmakers to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds on the state’s broadband infrastructure program, overseen by the Office of Regulatory Staff, which is often involved in utility regulation.
Taylor suggested that investing was the right move.
“A broadband internet connection in today’s world is like a utility, with electricity and water,” he said. “It is essential to be a citizen.”
State Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, a Republican from Edgefield, has previously described the Internet as “essential infrastructure” — just like roads and bridges, water and sewage.