Courtesy of Benedict College / WLTX
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Vice President Kamala Harris promoted the Biden administration’s achievements on broadband internet access during a visit to South Carolina, recently minted as the site of Democrats’ first presidential votes of the 2024 campaign.
In Monday’s trip, her fourth to the early-voting state since becoming vice president, Harris lauded more than $175 million being spent to help improve high-speed internet infrastructure at historically Black colleges and institutions, which she called “centers of academic excellence.”
“Many of those that we focus on currently do not have reliable access to high-speed internet on campus,” said Harris, herself a graduate of an HBCU. “This means that more students will be able to use the internet for their everyday needs.”
Benedict CEO and President Roslyn Clark Artis celebrated the efforts to close the digital divide in South Carolina.
“This is really quite frankly the civil rights issue of the day is internet technology,” said Artis.
According to Artis, Benedict will use their $2.85 million grant to purchase upgraded technology like laptops and hotspots for students, in addition to creating a community computer lab.
Artis said 12 percent of students live in technology deserts.
“We sent them a laptop and hotspot, but there’s simply nothing for it to connect to if there’s no broadband in their community so that 12 percent is really disenfranchised,” said Artis.
It’s a reality for Junior Dem’i Dell from Woodruff who knows the struggle of internet issues.
“Coming from a low income community knowing how you can’t always access the internet or just being rural and you can’t get to the Wi-Fi and having to sit in the parking lot is not always the best and comfortable way to do effective work,” said Dell.
Adults and children from certain zip codes in Richland County will be allowed to use the new community computer lab. Those areas have not been determined, but Artis said the lab will have dozens of computers.
“There will be a myriad of programs available to people in the community who want to upscale, learn a new trade or get a job in the technology sector,” said Artis.
VP Kamala Harris discuss plan of action
Harris’ remarks to a room of at least 100 supporters and student leaders from Benedict College, an HBCU in Columbia, came as Democrats’ national attention hones in on South Carolina, where a landslide 2020 primary win gave Joe Biden the momentum to notch Super Tuesday wins and bounce several opponents from the race.
Biden has repeatedly acknowledged the state’s pivotal role in his nomination as well as the significance of its heavily Black Democratic electorate. During remarks at a fundraiser last year, Harris thanked South Carolina Democrats, who “set President Joe Biden and me on a path to the White House.”
Late last year, Biden asked the Democratic National Committee to move the state to the top of the presidential primary voting calendar, which party officials did this month. Via its email lists, South Carolina’s Democratic Party has already begun selling buttons, mugs and apparel flaunting the state’s new status with the tagline “South Carolina Democrats Pick Winners.”
But Harris’ appearance also comes as a debate swirls over whether Biden — who, at age 80, is the nation’s oldest president — should seek a second term in office, as is widely expected. According to a poll released this month from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, just 37% of Democrats said they wanted Biden to seek a second term.
Though he’s long said it’s his intent to seek reelection, Biden has yet to make it official, struggling to dispel questions about whether he’s too old to continue serving as president. In an exclusive interview last week with The Associated Press, first lady Jill Biden gave one of the clearest indications yet that her husband will run in 2024, saying that there’s “pretty much” nothing left to do but figure out the time and place for the announcement.
The Republican candidate field is already forming, with a focus on South Carolina, home to the first GOP presidential primary in the South. Former President Donald Trump held a campaign event in the Statehouse last month, and former Gov. Nikki Haley announced her candidacy in Charleston a few weeks later. Sen. Tim Scott is also mulling a potential bid.
Equalizing access to high-speed internet has been a priority for Biden, who in 2021 signed into law a $1 trillion infrastructure package that, alongside traditional public works projects like building roads and bridges, included $65 billion for broadband expansion.
Expanding broadband internet availability also has been a top priority for Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of the White House’s top Capitol Hill supporters and South Carolina’s lone congressional Democrat. Clyburn, the chamber’s assistant Democratic leader, has long advocated for more widespread internet access nationwide, pushing for affordable, high-speed networks in rural communities.
Last week, Clyburn appeared alongside Republican Gov. Henry McMaster to announce the formation of a program — funded by the bipartisan infrastructure package — designed to identify the areas of greatest need in South Carolina and invest in broadband infrastructure.