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Greenville Business Magazine

State Opens Applications for $30 Million in Broadband Grants

Aug 06, 2020 12:27PM ● By David Dykes

By Jim DuPlessis

The state of South Carolina has opened up applications for $30 million in grants to internet providers to extend high-speed service to help targeted communities cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The state, using data from a Columbia company, has identified 555 areas with 182,294 households with no or slow internet access, representing about 10 percent of the state's families.

Providers must demonstrate the services are needed because of the pandemic, and will improve the community’s capacity to provide telehealth, telework or distance learning to residents.

“With the recent pandemic, the internet has become even more important as an access point for education, telehealth, and other crucial activities of daily living,” according to a web post from the state Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), which is handling the applications.

The money is part of nearly $2 billion allocated to South Carolina under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed by President Trump March 27. Three months later the South Carolina General Assembly passed a joint resolution (Act 142) that spelled out how the money would be spent in the state.

The state authorized $50 million for internet access and hotspots. The broadband grant applications are due to the ORS by Aug. 14.

The grants require:

  • Internet providers to show proof they have funds to cover their 50 percent match. The match can include other community sources.
  • Work to start only after the application is approved and a funding agreement reached with ORS, and it must be completed by Dec. 18.
  • The work to be performed within areas in the state where internet access is lacking or below the level considered adequate for typical needs (25 megabytes per second download speed and 3 mbs for uploads).
  • The work to be necessary to help communities deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, and must increase capacity for distance learning, telework, or telehealth.

The ORS has contracted with Revolution D, Inc., a Columbia consulting company, to identify areas with inadequate internet service. The company was founded by Jim Stritzinger, who has been involved in expanding broadband access in the state since about 2014. 

An analysis by Revolution D found 555 areas in the state where internet access was lacking or below the level considered adequate for typical needs. Stritzinger mapped all 46 counties using publicly available data from the Federal Communications Commission along with broadband speed tests from Ookla, a Seattle based company.

“Expansion of broadband infrastructure will emphasize services to rural communities and communities with a high prevalence of Covid-19 or with demographic characteristics consistent with risk factors for Covid-19,” the ORS post said.

Scoring of the applications will reward proposals that have lower installation costs per household, serve high-poverty areas, and provide subscription packages for low-income households.

Points will also be given to applicants with a plan to improve internet adoption rates in the community, and those with experience as broadband service providers.

“The provider will be required to report the status of the project, including delays, every 30 days, and must notify the ORS immediately if delays are identified or when outlined milestones are met,” the ORS said. “Following project completion, an undetermined amount of internet speed tests may be required throughout various parts of the community.”