Have you ever heard of “telehealth.”

If you have not heard of it, you may be interested in learning that it is the new cutting edge in the field of healthcare.

Almost anyone with a good broadband connection can now go online to see a doctor or nurse practioneer.

Instead of going to a doctor’s office and waiting in a room filled with sick people for a long time, patients can talk with a healthcare professional online and often get a diagnosis and a prescription at a greatly reduced cost.

I think this is the neatest thing since sliced bread.

Well, it is if you have a good connection to the internet.

Unfortunately, vast areas of South Carolina have a very poor broadband connection, making it impossible to take advantage of telehealth.

S.C. Republican Rep. Bill Taylor called the district he represents in Aiken County a “complete internet desert.”

Horry County is blessed to have pretty good broadband in most areas, but it can be very expensive. There are a few pockets where the connection remains weak or nonexistent.

Last year, the S.C. House of Representatives passed a bill that encourages internet providers like HTC and Spectrum to expand broadband internet service in underserved areas where at least 90 percent of households do not have access at speeds faster than dial-up.

The bill calls for the state to subsidize up to $2 million to providers to offer expanded services.

It calls for companies to provide a connection that provides at least 25 megabits download and 3 megabits uploads to receive funding from the state.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster is a big proponent of telehealth because there are huge gaps in healthcare throughout the state.

But, without a good internet connection, these underserved areas will not be able to take advantage of the new technology.

“If we could have a way for them to have access to needed information and treatment and advice early on, we could eliminate a lot of these problems and keep from being large problems,” the Governor said. “If we can keep people healthy, then that takes us a long way to the kind of prosperity we want to have.”

There’s another compelling reason why the Senate should pass, or even strengthen, the House bill this year.

A good bit of education now takes place over the internet, not only in schools, but at home.

Public schools send students home with assignments that need to be completed by logging onto the internet.

Students living in a home with poor, or missing internet service are put at an immediate disadvantage.

They won’t even be able to do something as simple as a Google search for information.

The so-called “I-95 Corridor of Shame” is comprised of many school districts with inadequate financial resources. These districts drag down the state’s ranking in national testing.

Unfortunately, these are the districts where broadband service is frequently the weakest.

It’s also interesting to note that millions of Americans use the internet to pursue college degrees. Remote learning has become huge and promises to get bigger in the future.

Many South Carolinians will not be able to take advantage of this technology if they cannot connect to the internet.

I think it is vitally important for the S.C. Senate to address broadband connectivity for underserved areas during this legislative session.

Rep. Mike Forester, R-Spartanburg, may have put it best when he said: “Broadband no longer is a luxury, but a necessity.”


Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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