Some Pee Dee districts run into issues with state-provided hot spots

Pee Dee

FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina schools have ordered thousands of internet hot spots and and wirelines for students who need a connection.

But some issues have emerged with the hot spots as the school year takes hold.

Several districts in the Pee Dee have said they’ve run into issues with the state-provided hot spots.

They’re provided by a program called the Online Learning Initiative, through the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff. The state agency is using CARES money to fund the program.

“We contacted various vendors, including Verizon and T Mobile, as well as various wired providers throughout the state,” Director of Safety, Transportation and Telecommunications for the SC Office of Regulatory Staff Tom Allen explained. “We then work with the Department of Education to contact each of the school districts- public school districts, as well as a private K-12, higher education institutions, colleges, universities and tech schools.”

Later in the process, the hot spots are distributed to families who meet a series of eligibility requirements. Districts with lower incomes were prioritized first, although the agency had much more funding to provide connectivity to other districts.

News13 asked about the connection problems many districts have apparently experienced across the region and state.

Some of the problems arose from a lengthy registration process, the agency said. That stems from some additional software added to prevent students from visiting ‘undesirable’ sites.

“Because there were so many steps within the distribution process, that’s what has created some of the problems,” Allen said. “Some of the school districts may have received their devices. Didn’t enroll them in the portal and distributed them when the kids got them, they weren’t working.”

Equipment and Outreach Coordinator Casi Sims said that the registration issues seem to be smoothing out now. She said though that some devices are being overloaded by streaming. In some of those cases, they’re sending out stronger hot spots more equipped to handle that.

In other cases, some users are simply in areas too rural to get a good connection.

“Sending a mobile hotspot out to some rural areas was an issue just for coverage,” Sims said. “What we do is we actually also have some wireline companies that we have contracts with and we look for, is that an option for that address.”

In addition to the stronger device and wireline alternatives, the agency is looking at some other alternatives.

“We’re also exploring some other things, dealing with Cradlepoint and Plum Case,” Allen said.

The agency was allocated $50 million in CARES funding for broadband projects.

$20 million is being allocated for hot spots and wirelines. $30 million is for broadband mapping and infrastructure.

Darlington, Marion and Dillon 4 are all districts that have had issues with hot spots. Some others said they hadn’t had the same issues.

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