Not everyone in SC has reliable internet. This affects the political access of young people

Bamberg In this rural area about an hour south of Colombia, 27-year-old Liz Sites struggles to stay informed without reliable home Internet access.

Saitz lives about seven miles outside the city limits of Bamberg. He admits that the only reason he cares about politics is because one of his hometown heroes, Nikki Haley, is running for president.

But it has been hard to keep up.

For most of Saitz’s life, the only broadband service was through satellite Internet provider HughesNet. It offered 50GB of high-speed internet for $150 a month. These gigabytes were usually consumed six days a month. Upload and subsequent download speeds were so slow that most tests didn’t even pick them up.

That lack of service meant Saitz had to, while working with Palmetto Care Connections, a nonprofit that brings technology, broadband and telehealth to health care providers in rural and underserved areas. He researched political issues and candidates.

“When information is hard to retrieve, you’re not really encouraged to look for it,” he said.

Service gaps hit both sides of the aisle, where South Carolina’s young and rural voters struggle to get political information because many still lack reliable broadband access despite the state’s efforts to expand service. do not have

Hayden Lee, 18, graduated in May. He works as a political activist in Valhalla, a small town in Oconee County nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lay is the chapter development coordinator at Democrats for Life America and vice president at the Rainbow Pro-Life Alliance. He is interested in issues such as anti-abortion support and supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia.

It is not easy to work in a small and rural town. Internet coverage in Valhalla can be a weakness. Parts of his community “up the mountain” in outlaw communities, such as Long Creek and Mountain Rest, have completely lost the Internet.

“I think it definitely affects the 90 percent voter reach, especially in rural communities,” Lai said. Every political event happens on the internet at this point.

In recent years, federal and state officials have poured millions of dollars into expanding broadband in South Carolina. While most households in the state’s more than 2 million households now have reliable Internet access, according to the latest estimates there are still nearly 200,000 households without Internet access.

Black holes affect all age populations, but especially young people. As many supporters, candidates and special interests depend on virtual platforms and social media such as TikTok and Facebook to reach voters.

Lai has always been interested in politics and knew exactly how to register to vote at the age of 18. But many of his friends were not so lucky.

“I really don’t know if even two or three percent of them, if you ask them, know where to go to register to vote,” he said. (This can be done online in South Carolina at

Youth participation in recent elections has increased to historic levels with the majority supporting Democratic candidates. In the 2020 presidential election, South Carolina saw a 10 percent increase in youth voter turnout, with 45 percent of voters 18-29 voting compared to 2016.

But as voter access has concentrated on digital platforms since the outbreak of Covid-19, this transition has left many young rural voters behind.

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Sites recently caved and bought Starlink, Elon Musk’s new satellite internet. Even this was a fluke as Starlink does not serve customers who live more than 9 miles outside the Bamberg city limits. The start-up cost of the service was $800, which Sites paid for with the help of his parents.

“If I didn’t want to keep up with Nikki Haley, I can’t say (before Starlink) that I would even be looking for information about the election,” Sites said. Not saying I didn’t vote, but it wasn’t a very informed vote.

Lai said a lack of information and access is forcing many young voters to adjust to politics. There is also a problem with the saturation of partisanship in the state, which is divided into red or blue.

Lai noted that Oconee County ballots are typically straight Republican, discouraging young voters who might want to see different options.

There is a direct link between access to information and civic engagement, said Jazmin Kay, president and CEO of 18byvote, a youth-led nonprofit organization.

VP Kamala Harris tells students that during the CofC event

“I fundamentally believe that access to civil information should be a right, not a privilege,” Kay said. “But what we’ve seen from our work with young voters is that when you’re a student or you’re not in a young urban center, you frankly don’t have access to that.”

Federal and state officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, and Rep. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, have supported the expansion of broadband in South Carolina, which is heavily funded through President Joe Biden’s Investing in America program. provided The Get Connected SC campaign is the next phase of South Carolina’s broadband expansion plan, which aims to educate people about what’s available and help them access it.

South Carolina recently received $24 million in August, the fourth round of federal funding to bring high-speed Internet to vulnerable rural communities in Bamberg and Orangeburg counties.


Signs for presidential candidate Ron DeSantis line Mountain Rest Road in Oconee County. Unauthorized community residents do not have reliable access to the Internet, which reduces their ability to receive political information. Macon Atkinson/Staff

To help bridge the gap, election offices and outreach groups are focusing on reaching rural youth in schools this election year.

In Marion County, a predominantly black PD county 30 minutes outside of Florence, Cynthia Ford hosts local high school voter registration drives with Delta Sigma Theta alumni. The women recently registered 70 students to vote at Mullins High School and are still collecting totals from their recent visit to Dillon High School.

Ford said they plan to stop at Marion, Lake View and Latta high schools before the end of the school year to reach those seniors as well.

“It’s important to plant the seed now,” Ford said. They need to know why voting is important and just be a part of the process and make it a part of their lives.

Lai and other area residents are working to revive the Young Democrats for Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties to help with voter turnout. One of the first activities they are planning is in-person voter registration.

“Just getting them signed up can be the biggest struggle, just getting them to take that first step,” he said. “That’s definitely something we’ll be working on.”

Carolina Connect continues to expand broadband to rural Aiken

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