Parts of Richland County with limited internet access will receive a digital boost from an $85,000 initiative by the county.
Richland County plans to install 2 miles of fiber optic internet infrastructure in the southeast area of the county. The work will coincide with the ongoing expansion of the county water and sewer system in Lower Richland.
County Council members approved the spending for broadband internet expansion this week.
About 10,300 Richland County residents, mostly in the southeast, do not have broadband internet access, according to the county.
Lack of or poor internet access has posed a severe barrier for many local students who are now doing all their schoolwork from home, as schools are closed for the remainder of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rural South Carolina students, in particular, often deal with slow internet speeds that are comparable to third-world countries, The State reported last month.
“If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that access to fiber optics is critically important for students and seniors at this time,” Councilwoman Dalhi Myers said in a news release.
There are concerns that disparate internet access during this extended time of remote learning could further widen the education gap between urban and rural and wealthier and poorer students.
Some local school districts — including Richland 1, which covers Lower Richland — have been driving WiFi-enabled buses to areas where students have poor internet access and encouraging students to download several days of school lessons.
Richland County’s new fiber optic cable expansion will extend broadband internet access to more than 1,000 residents, the county said in a news release. The hope is the project will draw other internet service providers to the area and utilize the county’s infrastructure, the county said. The county hopes an internet service provider could expand its 2 miles of conduit an additional 28 miles.
The county says it will save money by installing the internet conduits at the same time as new water and sewer lines are being installed in the area. The $85,000 for the internet project will come from the county’s general fund budget.
There is no date set for when the internet initiative is to begin. Construction began last month on the expansion of water and sewer infrastructure in Lower Richland; it is expected to be completed in the summer of 2021.