Richland County is setting course to bridge the digital divide through an initiative designed to educate residents and get underserved communities on the information highway.
The Connected Community Engagement Program kicks off Monday, Sept. 30 at an event that will bring together community, civic and business leaders. One of the goals of the initiative is to increase access to and adoption of broadband in Richland County – an essential element, program backers say, to improved education and better jobs. In addition, Richland County is seeking national certification as a technologically progressive community to position it for greater economic growth and enhance the quality of life for residents.
“We have to put in place an action plan that will allow all our residents to get the broadband access they need,” said Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson, District 2, who sponsored a Richland County Council resolution to support the initiative. “I truly believe this program will help children and adults. Being able to do research for school, to look for a job or take training classes online shouldn’t be out of reach to any of our residents.”
The staff from Connect South Carolina will oversee the process of the technology certification program. The team will work with the Richland County Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Committee to fully assess the county’s level of broadband, identify gaps and establish goals and objectives to increase broadband access. The team also will identify technology projects to submit for funding and grants.
“Broadband connectivity is a vital part of the lives of our residents in South Carolina for a variety of services including educational, healthcare and employment uses,” said Heather Jones, the state program manager for Connect South Carolina. “Yet, according to recent surveys, as many as 1.5 million South Carolinians do not subscribe to this important service.”
Connect South Carolina is a non-profit organization that is a subsidiary of Connected Nation, Inc., a private-public partnership that provides broadband planning services to communities and states. Participants in the program have access to self-paced training online, low-cost refurbished computers and laptops and discounts on broadband service.
“Working with dozens of Internet service providers, Connected Nation helps to offer low-cost broadband subscriptions,” Jones said. The monthly cost starts as low as $10, but specific offers and availability vary by location.
At Monday’s event, officials from Connect South Carolina will be on hand to discuss the state of Richland County’s broadband landscape, Jones said. The initiative also will include an assessment of the county that will help expand broadband in three defined areas:
- Access: The technology infrastructure that is in place within Richland County
- Adoption: The level at which residents are taking advantage of broadband service
- Use: Whether residents are using broadband service to better their lives in the areas of economic development, government, education and health care
At the end of the assessment, Richland County will receive a technology action plan to help the county gain certification by Connected Nation as an official Connected community. In doing so, it will join Anderson County – the only county in the state so far to achieve this status. Anderson County’s technology plan includes projects to expand digital literacy, build awareness for the benefits of broadband and assist businesses with websites and social media, as well as improving the online presence of local governments.
“I look forward to working with the Richland County stakeholders on this important assessment of the county’s technology assets and opportunities for improvement,” Jones said.
The kickoff will be 1:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30 in Richland County Council Chambers, 2020 Hampton St. For more information about Connect South Carolina, visit www.connectsc.org.