A (Wireless) Cloud Looms Over South Carolina

 

The coming switch from analog to digital broadcasting has states scrambling to submit plans to the FCC that outline how they will digitalize and use their current broadcasting licenses.

The state of South Carolina, for example, owns 67 wireless licenses, which are administered by the state agency, SCETV. Those licenses could be used to help deliver broadband to rural residents if a unique bill currently before the South Carolina General Assembly becomes law.

The Times and Democrat explains: 

[State Senator John] Matthews has sponsored legislation that would require the licenses, owned by the state agency, SCETV, to be used to provide a “wireless cloud” over a 10 mile radius of every public school in the state.

The aim is to provide the same accessible, affordable Internet access currently available to urban areas to the less tech-savvy rural communities, Matthews said.

While Matthews views it as an unique opportunity to bridge the economic gap, other legislators see it as a chance to boost state revenues by leasing signals to private companies such as AT&T.

Last year, the House voted to establish the S.C. Wireless Technology and Communications Commission to determine the viability of creating a statewide “wireless cloud.”

The Senate is currently mulling over whether or not that committee will have any legislators on it. Meanwhile, state Rep. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville, says time is of the essence.

The state has until January 2009 to submit a plan to the FCC on how it will digitalize and use the licenses. The federal government has required that all signals be converted from analog to digital by February 2009.

If the legislature does not move quickly enough, it could lose the licenses and what Loftis hails as an opportunity to be a national leader in broadband technology.

A copy of the bill can be read here; it’s no surprise that one of the chief sponsors of the bill is a retired elementary school principal, given its focus on education.  

If South Carolina enacts the ban, it will be a major victory for those seeking to make high-speed access to the Internet as universal as access to electricity or water. In Connecticut, a similar discussion about the "right to broadband" is turning contentious, as it already has in other states. 

Whether closing the broadband gap comes through the deliberate repurposing of FCC licenses as part of public policy, as in South Carolina, or through broader private access to WiMAX and satellite broadband, there seems little doubt that the gap will close. Wal-Mart, as we’ve blogged recently, is at least one company that is betting that the demand for faster access is rural areas is sure to burgeon in the coming years. 

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