The Huffington Post, July 3, 2012
In 2010, two counties in South Carolina, Orangeburg and Oconee, received federal funding to deliver broadband Internet to residents without access. The projects were the first of their kind in South Carolina. Now, they may also be the last. Last week, South Carolina passed a law that imposes new regulations on communities that want to build next-generation broadband networks.
The law’s supporters say it ensures local governments don’t have an unfair advantage over private companies in the local broadband market. But critics say the law saddles local governments with financial and legal barriers that block them from deploying high-speed Internet access to rural communities in the future.
At least 18 other states have passed similar laws restricting publicly owned broadband networks, according to Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The laws, and the lawmakers who support them, are backed by major Internet providers trying to limit competition, even though they don’t serve rural areas with high-speed Internet, said Mitchell. “The only threat of competition they face comes from local governments deciding to build their own networks, so they’re trying to stop that,” he said.
The debate highlights the digital divide in rural America. About 26 million people have no access to broadband, which has become a vital platform for finding jobs, attracting businesses, securing health care and acquiring an education.