Nearly 12,000 Aiken County residents lack access to even the most basic internet service, according to a connectivity study presented during the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday breakfast assembly.
Proper access to the internet – or the lack there of – is a “really, really big problem,” study leader Jim Stritzinger said. Stritzinger is the director of the Center for Applied Innovation and Advanced Analytics.
The access issue is most noticeable in rural areas and small markets.
A copy of the presentation given Friday morning during the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast.
“By access I mean …” Stritzinger said, “a resident can pick up the phone, and they can call their local provider, and they can say, ‘I would like internet at 123 Main St.,’ and the provider can say, ‘Yes we can deliver it.'”
That’s not always possible.
“Now you go into the rural regions of the county, and things aren’t looking so good, right?” Stritzinger said, pointing to his Aiken County coverage map.
Internet access in the county is strong, upward of 100 mbps for downloads, in the downtown Aiken area, beyond the bypass and in the greater North Augusta and Georgia areas.
Access begins to taper north and east of Williston; north of Wagener Road; and on both sides of I-20 headed toward the county line.
Some of those areas have access to basic service – 10 mbps for downloads, 1 mbps for uploads, for example. But some don’t even have that, according to detailed mapping included in Friday’s presentation.
Internet service might not be available in those areas, though, because no one lives there, Stritzinger noted. Burying and installing internet fiber cables costs about $30,000 per mile, according to Stritzinger.
As of 2015, the Federal Communications Commission measures internet service against a 25 mbps download, 3 mbps upload hurdle.
“So that’s a good quality of service,” Stritzinger said. “A K-12 student can go to their house, can do their homework, can engage the internet in a meaningful way.”
Anything less than that, Stritzinger said, can make modern internet use difficult.
On Friday, Chamber of Commerce President and CEO J. David Jameson stressed the competitive advantage of proper internet access. That same day, Sean Alford, the superintendent of Aiken County public schools, took to Twitter and said solving the access issue is of “dire” importance.
Stritzinger’s presentation included a potential solution: repurposing towers, tanks and more for internet infrastructure.
“This could be the greatest recycling project of all time to help our state,” Stritzinger said.
But even if tall structures and assets – old SCETV towers, Stritzinger mentioned – are relocated and repurposed well, the connectivity fix still requires internet provider assistance.
“This is not one partner. This is all of them. We need the AT&Ts, we need the Atlantic Broadbands that are here today to work with us because every tower needs a provider partner to come along for the ride,” Stritzinger said, reassuring the audience that the study is anything but a “provider-bashing project.”
Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin