When Lewis Moore moved to northern Spartanburg County four years ago, he expected to receive the same internet service he was used to in Maryland.
“We could look up and view any content we needed at any time of the day,” he said. “Now with Dish Internet available, we have just enough data to do our online banking and browsing a few YouTube videos.”
Moore is not alone. There are many residents who live in rural parts of Spartanburg County who cannot get the same high-speed or broadband internet that urban homeowners receive.
“In order for this whole county to grow, it has to have access to high-speed internet,” said former Spartanburg County Councilwoman Jane Hall, who helped spearhead an effort more than two years ago to expand broadband.
That effort was led by a foundation called Connect South Carolina to increase high-speed internet access to keep the state connected to the global economy. It partnered with counties, school districts and chambers of commerce.
The local effort was led by the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Spartanburg School District 1 Superintendent Ron Gardner and Denny’s Corp. CEO John Miller, along with financial support from all seven Spartanburg school districts and the Mary Black Foundation.
“They helped us develop a comprehensive, countywide internet access map that pinpointed areas of varying speed and no access at all,” said Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg chamber. “While we continue to be at the mercy of service providers, Spartanburg has taken the first, proactive steps in mapping our community.”
What Smith and the Connect SC team found was that 95.8 percent of households in the county have access to 100 Mbps internet speeds.
It also found that 28.5 percent of households do not subscribe to internet service, that 63.2 percent of households with children earning less than $20,000 a year do not have internet, that 200 public computers are available in Spartanburg County libraries, that 93 percent of businesses have an internet connection and 85 percent have a website, and that the average monthly cost of internet service is $52.51.
Statewide, the initiative found that nearly one in three households, or 31.9 percent, did not have broadband internet at home. The gap was most stark in low-income households.
While the focus was on improving access to high-speed internet to businesses and school districts, households on the outer fringes felt left out, Hall said.
“I would get calls once or twice a month from people,” Hall said. “We were able to actually start the process by delivery through hot spots, or to actually bring internet to rural areas. It was the beginning phases of it. I would like to see that pick up more. There are still areas without service, especially (around) Enoree, Woodruff, Glen Springs, as well as the northern end.”
Moore and another reader, Jamie Smith, asked Upstate Lowdown how long it will be before cable companies run lines to their homes. Upstate Lowdown is a Herald-Journal and GoUpstate.com feature that attempts to answer reader questions.
“What’s the criteria to get cable companies to run TV/internet lines? Many homes in Roebuck need reliable/affordable TV and internet options,” wrote Smith.
Moore asked, “Why is there no high-speed internet in Goodjoin Road between Highways 357 and 14?”
Moore said the last time he spoke with a cable representative, he was told his home is 3,000 feet away from a connection and there were no plans to bring it closer.
“I had seen fiber optic being run all around us as part of the rural internet initiative, and they were not even aware of the program,” he said. “Basically, no help at all.”
He said his satellite package won’t allow him to livestream or even watch a video online without taking up too much of his monthly allotted time. To avoid paying extra charges, he said he must download videos between 2 and 8 a.m. Plus, during rainstorms his satellite feed is interrupted and he gets no service.
Jim Stritzinger, the former executive director of Connect SC, said Windstream was among providers that expanded internet service in Spartanburg County during the initiative. Another was Spectrum.
Scott Morris, a senior adviser of corporate affairs at Windstream, said he is not aware of any current efforts to expand service.
“Windstream provides residential broadband only in communities where it is the local telephone company,” he said from Windstream’s base of operations in Little Rock, Ark. “We do serve businesses in some cities like Spartanburg where we are not the local phone company.”
Patti Michel, regional director of communications for Spectrum/Charter Communications in Asheville, acknowledged that extending cable to homes in rural areas can be cost-prohibitive if there aren’t enough connections to make it feasible.
“We continually evaluate network expansion projects on many factors, including distance from our existing network, construction requirements and overall economic and technical feasibility,” Michel said.
That leaves Smith hoping that someday anyone who wants broadband will be able to get it.
“As more and more rooftops are developed in our community, it is my hope that service providers will utilize the map and consider offering greater access to higher speed internet,” he said.