Broadband plan could plug in entire Pee Dee

Gov. Henry McMaster, flanked by industry officials and lawmakers, ceremonially re-signs the broadband legislation last week during a Darlington visit. PHOTO BY BOBBY BRYANT

By Bobby Bryant

Editor

editor@newsandpress.net

Coming to you soon from Pee Dee Electric Co-Op and other S.C. cooperatives: Broadband Internet access? It might happen, thanks to a new law that S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster came to Darlington last week to applaud and promote. The legislation will allow co-ops to step into expanding broadband access in rural areas of the state – to offer customers data as well as electricity. “This is going to have ramifications for years,” McMaster said of the plan during a ceremonial re-signing of the legislation at the headquarters of Pee Dee Electric Co-Op in Darlington last Thursday. “ … In our state, we all work together so well anyway. This is just going to make it a little bit closer, in terms of education, in terms of medicine, in terms of business — this is going to open things up.” S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas of Hartsville said: “I can think of nowhere where this bill will have a greater impact than the Pee Dee.” Flanked by a crowd of lawmakers and industry executives, McMaster signed, once more, the Broadband Accessibility Act. The governor originally signed this legislation into law Sept. 29. The legislation “set(s) forth the broadband authority of electric cooperatives and … the manner in which broadband networks are constructed.” The bill, however, doesn’t give any electric utility an “express grant of authority” to provide broadband services. It’s intended to encourage electric co-ops to start down the path to being broadband providers as well. McMaster’s visit last week featured an array of guest speakers. William Fleming Jr., president and CEO of Pee Dee Electric Cooperative and Marlboro Electric Cooperative, introduced Mike Couic, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, an association representing all the state’s co-ops. “Over the past year and a half,” Couic said, “we’ve talked about broadband, and we’ve talked about the two South Carolinas. There’s a South Carolina where you can work from home and where your kids can go to school from home … You cannot do that in a lot of places in South Carolina.” Couic introduced the governor and saluted his “vision” as shown in the broadband bill. “A lot of people have been left out” of the information economy, McMaster said. “They’re out of the flow of those things.” The governor said he recently experienced for himself how effective broadband “telemedicine” can be. “I had a little pimple or something on my eyelid,” McMaster said. “I was coming down I-20 somewhere and I thought I’d better call the doctor to find out what this is.” “I called up, and they said, ‘He’s here. Why don’t you talk to him?’ He said, ‘Put the thing on Facetime and let me look at it. So I did. He says, ‘That’s a nothingburger. Where’s your pharmacy?’ I gave him the number. (He) called in a prescription for some goo, and (I) picked it up … and we ain’t even slowed down. Kept right on going.” “A lot of people can’t get to the doctor,” McMaster said. “We’ve got to take the doctor to the people.” Broadband Internet access “just opens education wide up,” the governor said. “So this is a big day. A lot of people made this happen.” After comments by state Sen. Hugh Leatherman of Florence, House Speaker Lucas praised the day as “truly an historic day in South Carolina.” Lucas compared the situation in some ways to the “electrification” struggle of the 1930s, when rural areas of the nation fought to have power lines extended to their communities. Borrowing from The Grateful Dead rock group, Lucas noted that this broadband legislation had “a long, strange trip” to the governor’s desk. He said the legislation made it through largely because of a partnership between the public sector, private sector and lawmakers. (One key sponsor was Darlington Rep. Robert Williams.) “This was truly everybody pulling together,” Lucas said. The bill made it through the Legislature in the “last hour” of the session, he said. Another speaker at the event was Mike Hagg, chief executive officer of Horry Telephone Cooperative. “Broadband is no longer a nicety, it’s a necessity,” he said. “Every South Carolinian needs it. Every South Carolinian deserves it.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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