State Awards $26.1 Million in Broadband GrantsAug 22, 2020 12:53PM ● By David Dykes
By Jim DuPlessis
The state of South Carolina has approved $26.1 million in matching grants to 13 providers to extend broadband to 96 underserved rural pockets sprinkled across the state by year’s end.
The state had up to $30 million available for grants to internet providers to extend high-speed service to help targeted communities cope with the Covid-19 pandemic by allowing better distance learning, telework, or telehealth services. Recipients have to match the grant’s amount.
The providers are on a tight timetable. They can only be paid for work started after application approval and finished by Dec. 18.
“The companies think they can do it. They chose areas where they can make it work within this time frame,” said Ron Aiken, a spokesman for the state Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), which is handing the grants and funding agreements with providers.
The spending deadline comes with the money’s source: 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 state’s $2 billion share would be spent.
Almost all the money went to 91 of 555 targeted areas with no or slow internet access. The 555 areas have 182,294 households, representing about 10 percent of the state's families. The areas were mapped by Revolution D, the Columbia consulting company of Jim Stritzinger.
The number of households without adequate internet service might be greater because the threshold for broadband is just 25 megabytes per second of download speed and 3 mbs of upload speed. Many broadband experts say this federal standard is outdated, and the norm for downloads is now 100 or 200 mbs.
Some of the target areas were identified as priority areas because of factors including prevalence of low-income families and the school-age population.
A list posted by ORS Aug. 20 shows priority target areas received 28 grants for $14.6 million, while other target areas received 48 grants for $9.6 million. Five areas outside the targets received $947,214.
OneTone submitted a single application for 15 areas, all in Oconee County. Its $1 million award includes six priority areas and nine other target areas.
The grants went to:
· Comporium won $5.6 million to reach eight areas in Lancaster, Lexington and Saluda.
· TruVista won $4.7 million to reach six areas in Chester and Fairfield counties.
· Newberry Electric Cooperative won $3.2 million to reach five areas in Newberry County, including $918,000 for an area in Newberry County outside the targets.
· WC Fiber won $3 million to reach 12 areas in Anderson, Greenville and Laurens counties.
· Horry Telephone Cooperative won $1.8 million to reach seven areas in Horry, Georgetown and Marion counties.
· Lynches River Electric Cooperative won $1.8 million to reach 10 areas in Chesterfield and Lancaster Counties.
· Hargray Fiber won $1.5 million to reach five areas in Beaufort and Hampton counties.
· Sandhill Telephone Cooperative won $1.1 million to reach five areas in Marlboro County.
· OneTone won $1.1 million to reach 15 areas in Oconee County.
· Aiken Electric Cooperative won $721,792 to reach six areas in Aiken and Orangeburg counties.
· Home Telephone won $627,370 to reach three areas in Berkeley and Dorchester counties.
· Spectrum won $610,180 to reach 11 areas in Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Greenville, Laurens, Lexington, Oconee, Spartanburg and Sumter counties. This included $29,214 in grants for four areas in Florence, Greenville, Laurens and Lexington that are outside the targets.
· FTC won $377,706 to reach three areas in Clarendon and Williamsburg counties.