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A better connection
Initiative could improve Web access for county residents
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Four Kershaw County agencies are hoping to provide Kershaw County residents better access to the World Wide Web and promote computer and Internet literacy.

The Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, Kershaw County Economic Development Office, Kershaw County Information Technology Department and Kershaw County Library system will sponsor a Connect South Carolina Broadband Kick-Off Meeting at 10 a.m. April 30 at the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center.

Connect South Carolina (CSC) is a non-profit subsidiary of Connected Nation. CSC works with broadband providers to create a map of coverage in order to provide better access to broadband coverage in communities throughout the state. Its mission is to “change lives through technology,” according to its website. The goal is to “increase high-speed Internet access, adoption and use to diversify the economy and ensure South Carolina’s competitiveness in the connected global economy of the 21st century.”

Chamber Executive Director Liz Horton said CSC will attempt to find “blackout” areas in the county without adequate or any access at all, to the Internet. The kick-off will serve as an informational meeting for the community, Horton said. CSC will help Kershaw County take the necessary steps to become a Connected Community Technology certified program, she said.

“This program will attempt to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Kershaw County,” Horton said. “We will assess what’s available and where the gaps are.”

Some of Kershaw County’s more rural areas don’t have access to the Internet, Horton said, adding that economic development is impacted when people have access to the Internet. The chamber uses the CSC website for relocation prospects to determine what service providers they would have access to, Horton said -- it’s as easy as entering an address.

Kershaw County Library Director Amy Schofield said she is glad there is an initiative to get South Carolina residents better access to the Web. There is an array of people who use the library’s free Wi-Fi connection, but there are also a number of people who don’t know how to use computers or the Internet, Schofield said. Some people can’t afford Internet access, but others just don’t have access because of where they live, she said.

Internet literacy is critical right now, as everything is moving online, Schofield said, adding that a number of the library’s resources are moving to the Internet: job applications, banking and even taxes are being done online now. In the past, the library has had tax forms available for Kershaw County residents. Now the paper form is limited, as there is a push for people to fill out their tax forms online, she said.

“There is a digital divide” and Connect SC wants to make the Internet accessible, Schofield said. It is the library’s job to help people understand how to use it, she said. It’s not just the elderly that need help navigating the World Wide Web, Schofield said, it’s middle age people.

“There are people in their 30s and 40s who just have not had the access to technology in school or at work like today’s children do,” she said. “If you’ve spent your life working in a factory or a restaurant and are looking to change jobs, you are going to need to look for jobs online. Knowing how to use the Internet today is a basic necessity. You can’t even apply to McDonald’s or Food Lion without knowing how to use the Internet.”

The library offers numerous classes each month on how to navigate the Internet, computers and various computer programs. They even offer private sessions, Schofield said.

CSC Public Relations Specialist Jennifer Cobb said CSC will work with “community champions” -- the four sponsoring groups -- to gather local representatives in Kershaw County who can help “champion” increased broadband coverage in the area. These representatives could be city and county government officials, school district personnel or directors of various agencies and business owners, Cobb said. CSC will help communities assess technology challenges, promote digital literacy and work to create better access. That can include improving broadband availability, broadband speeds, broadband competition, middle mile access and mobile broadband availability, in addition to increasing public computer access, broadband awareness and working with vulnerable populations, Cobb said. The community will be able to discuss any of their concerns at the kick-off, she said.

Kershaw County Information Technology Coordinator Chris Jones said CSC approached Kershaw County representatives about holding a community meeting. Jones said the meeting will be valuable to such Kershaw County areas as Lake Wateree, Cassatt and Elgin and areas just north of Camden which do not have access to high speed Internet through cable or their phones. The kick-off session will spark discussion about how local providers can enhance their services, he said, which is critical to economic development and Kershaw County School District.

“We have to open up discussion to everyone and it’s important to see what the provider’s perspective is on where Kershaw County can go with (its) broadband access. It’s great that Kershaw County students have access to their own laptops and iPads, but they defeat the purpose if they don’t have Internet access at home,” Jones said.

Kershaw County Economic Development Director Peggy McLean said Kershaw County’s industrial territory is well served, but it is a strong selling point to have a “connected” community. 

“This initiative is a great way to evaluate where we are with regards to Internet connection and then develop a plan to expand where needed. It will help business, industry and private citizens. It is a great way to get our community online,” McLean said.

CSC is funded by the United States Department of Commerce’s State Broadband Initiative Grant Program.