Panel of lawmakers consider broadband leases

When the FCC mandated the switch to digital broadcasting, it opened the door for South Carolina to own, or lease to private companies, the nation’s only public, statewide wireless internet system.The Joint Bond Review Board Subcommittee will hear testimony this afternoon(2:30) on the terms of a contract to lease all of the state’s educational broadband capacity to two private companies.
SCETV officials say ETV will still hold the licenses and as license-holders we still have responsibility for the regulatory requirements mandated by the FCC. Each state, by law, keeps five percent of the spectrum for public educational use.
Orangeburg representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter is on that four-member subcommittee, the only Democrat. She says the state will have control of up to 25 percent of the broadband spectrum. The question is what to do with the extra 20 percent of the spectrum.  
“The bottom line here is that we as a state need to recapture as much broadband as possible,”  she said.   “Five percent may seem like a lot of broadband now, as we move foward the need for additional capacity will be there.”
Representative Cobb-Hunter says she fears that without careful planning, South Carolina will become a state with two sides–those served with fast broadband internet access, and those who are not.  “I think we’re already there, a devided state.  It’s essential that the state keep as much of the spectrum  possile.” 
South Carolina is the only state in the nation that owns all the educational broadcasting licenses that the FCC has issued to the state. She says there is a historical reason for that.   “I understand that grew out of the issue of race, as most stuff here in South Carolina did.  ETV was created as a way of educating children of race.  Regardless of what evolved out of that cloud, it has evolved into the capacity to teach everybody, regardless of race or anything like that.” 
Cobb-Hunter says she’s not opposed to privatization, or leasing off part of the spectrum to private companies.   “What I am opposed to is the state selling off everything and state not retaining a capacity greater than five percent.  I believe we would be missing out on a chance to have significant economic development.” 
Seven billion dollars in federal stimulus grants for broadband development are now on the table.  South Carolina officials have so far not applied for funds to coordinate a statewide broadband service.

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