Today, Congressman James E. Clyburn, Chair of the House Democratic Rural Broadband Task Force, along with 11 other Democratic colleagues working on the issue of universal broadband deployment, announced their plan to connect all Americans to affordable broadband internet. Their announcement outlined an updated and expanded version of the broadband provisions of House Democrats’ Moving America Forward Framework.
Congressman Clyburn has been the leading voice in Congress on making high-speed internet accessible and affordable for all Americans. The current pandemic crisis has highlighted the digital divide and the need to ensure all Americans have the ability to work, learn and receive health care via the internet.
“Speaking to a gathering in a small rural Tennessee church in the early 1940s, a farmer proclaimed, ‘Brothers and sisters: I want to tell you this. The greatest thing on Earth is to have the love of God in your heart. And the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house.’ Just as the Great Depression made clear to all that electricity was the ‘next greatest thing’ in the 20th century, the coronavirus pandemic is making clear to all that broadband is the ‘next next greatest thing’ in the 21st century,” said House Majority Whip Clyburn. “Just as the Rural Electrification Act made electricity accessible and affordable to all Americans, the plan we are announcing today will make broadband accessible and affordable to all Americans. As we see millions of our fellow Americans unable to telework, learn remotely, or access telehealth because they lack broadband, now is the time to act.”
As a member of the House leadership, Congressman Clyburn championed a provision in the recent COVID-19 relief legislation that provides $200 million for a pilot program to help health care providers receive necessary broadband connectivity and devices for telehealth, provides $25 million to expand investments in distance learning and telemedicine, and allows both community health centers and rural clinics to be reimbursed for telehealth services during this time of emergency. His support of the CARES Act also provided nearly $500 thousand to the South Carolina State Library Agency to aid students in distance learning.
In addition to his Congressional efforts, Congressman Clyburn has spearheaded connectivity efforts by facilitating strategic partnerships between community leaders and service providers and by supporting funding to ensure accessible and affordable broadband for all South Carolinians. He has been working with wireless providers in the state to offer discounted rates to educational tech companies allowing the states to serve more students. He has also engaged with providers to encourage them to do more to support South Carolina during this public health crisis when access is crucial for services like virtual learning and telehealth.
These efforts build on Congressman Clyburn’s efforts to work with industry experts to ensure South Carolina has the best, most accurate, and most current broadband maps in the nation. Through this initiative, custom maps have been created for each county, electric cooperative, and South Carolina Telecommunications and Broadband Association member allowing these entities to more successfully target state and federal resources.
Last year, Congressman Clyburn also started a pilot project in Clarendon County working with school district and county leaders to survey students on internet access and adoption rates. This will provide necessary data to identify solutions to connect every student in the county to internet access.
In addition, Congressman Clyburn is working with South Carolina providers, including electric cooperatives, to help them compete for an estimated $350 million in funding available in the upcoming rural broadband auction at the FCC. This funding will allow providers who are ready to build now, to provide high-speed internet across South Carolina. The South Carolina electric-cooperatives who have committed to build high-speed fiber internet networks as soon as they receive federal funding include Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative, York Electric Cooperative, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative, Santee Electric Cooperative, Newberry Electric Cooperative, Palmetto Electric Cooperative, Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Pee Dee Electric Cooperative.