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South Carolina wraps up historic $400M statewide broadband program

Jason Thomas //July 1, 2024//

The South Carolina Broadband Office has finished its historic American Rescue Plan Act grant programs that have resulted in the commitment of $400 million to expand high-speed internet access to over 112,380 unserved or underserved Broadband Serviceable Locations statewide. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

The South Carolina Broadband Office has finished its historic American Rescue Plan Act grant programs that have resulted in the commitment of $400 million to expand high-speed internet access to over 112,380 unserved or underserved Broadband Serviceable Locations statewide. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

The South Carolina Broadband Office has finished its historic American Rescue Plan Act grant programs that have resulted in the commitment of $400 million to expand high-speed internet access to over 112,380 unserved or underserved Broadband Serviceable Locations statewide. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

The South Carolina Broadband Office has finished its historic American Rescue Plan Act grant programs that have resulted in the commitment of $400 million to expand high-speed internet access to over 112,380 unserved or underserved Broadband Serviceable Locations statewide. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

South Carolina wraps up historic $400M statewide broadband program

Jason Thomas //July 1, 2024//

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The South Carolina Broadband Office has finished its historic American Rescue Plan Act grant programs that have resulted in the commitment of $400 million to expand high-speed internet access to over 112,380 unserved or underserved Broadband Serviceable Locations statewide.

The 25-month process was initiated on May 13, 2022, when Gov. Henry McMaster signed Act 244 into law, which allocated ARPA funding to a variety of state agencies — including $400 million to the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff to expand broadband infrastructure, according to a news release.

Overall, it took four grant rounds to achieve this result and the SCBBO recently signed the final agreement of its ARPA SLFRF 3.0 competitive grant program that — in total — awarded the remaining $43.33 million to 12 different Internet Service Providers, across 23 projects in 30 counties, the release stated These final projects, together with private-sector match, represent a total project cost of $82.5 million that will deploy approximately 1,684 miles of fiber and connect 21,253 BSLs.

Across the four grant rounds, the SCBBO deployed $399 million (99.8%) for infrastructure and utilized less than 1% for non-infrastructure expenses, the release stated. When combined with $263,059,123 in private-sector match, the SCBBO’s ARPA programs resulted in an estimated $663 million broadband infrastructure investment for South Carolina, the release stated. This amount reflects an overall match rate of 39.7% non-ARPA funds (other federal and/or private investment), in addition to the ARPA funds provided by the SCBBO.

“It is an incredible feeling to reach this historic milestone for broadband in South Carolina,” said Jim Stritzinger, director of the SCBBO, in the release. “With an expert team, we’ve moved quickly, and with great precision, as we’ve deployed every dollar of ARPA funding. Our ‘agile’ methodology for fund deployment has worked extremely well, and we are grateful for the close collaboration with the ISPs that work so hard daily to keep our homes and businesses connected. Best of all, we hit this incredible milestone over six months ahead of federal requirements – this achievement means South Carolinians will get high-speed connectivity in their homes faster!”

Taken collectively, ARPA broadband funds were awarded to 19 ISPs for 129 projects, according to the release. The funding positively impacts all 46 counties and is currently transforming the Main Street communities of Norway and Ridge Spring. When complete, ARPA funds will have fueled the construction of approximately 13,250 miles of fiber to over 112,380 BSLs.

In addition to receiving ARPA grant funds, all recipients are required propose and commit to affordable monthly rates — without income qualifications — for a designated number of years following construction completion, the release stated. Based on the rates proposed by ISPs, affordable rates in the SCBBO’s grant program range from $29.95 to $85.00 at minimum speeds of 100/20 Mbps. Further, many grant recipients have also pledged to offer free Wi-Fi in designated areas, and some are offering digital-skills training.

A comprehensive, interactive map of all SCBBO grant awards is available here, and a summary of all ARPA grant recipients is available here. More information can be found at ors.sc.gov/broadband.

Now that all ARPA program investments are complete, the SCBBO is focused on receiving approval for the NTIA Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, which will unlock an additional $546.5 million of broadband infrastructure funding so that all remaining unserved and underserved homes, businesses, and Community Anchor Institutions can be connected to high-speed broadband infrastructure, the release stated.

“Today’s historic announcement of the completion of ARPA fund deployment demonstrates the agency’s innovative and effective approach to making broadband resources work for all South Carolinians,” noted Andrew Bateman, acting executive director of the ORS, in the release. “In May 2022, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor McMaster and the SC General Assembly gave us specific direction to deploy $400 million of ARPA broadband resources as quickly and efficiently as possible. We have precisely done that.”

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