Access to broadband for all Americans is urgent. Read more about how our Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) has developed a repeatable model to address the digital divide in communities hosting HBCUs starting with Orangburg South Carolina. Learn More.

December 1, 2022

Student Freedom Initiative, the Orangeburg, South Carolina Department of Public Utilities and Connect Humanity Partner to Bring Affordable Fiber Optic Internet Services to the Region

The Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities will begin the implementation of the city’s strategic Digital Access Infrastructure Plan to create an open-access network for the community’s residents

Orangeburg, SC – December 1, 2022 – Today, Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), along with the Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and Connect Humanity are pleased to announce the second phase of their partnership to expand broadband access in Orangeburg, South Carolina. This initiative will provide affordable options for high-speed internet access across the City of Orangeburg and allow Claflin University and South Carolina State, two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), to provide their students with stable high-speed internet access to enhance their education.

This pilot program is a direct response to the startling statistic that 82% of HBCUs reside in broadband deserts. Currently, in the City of Orangeburg, there are limited options for affordable internet service. Due to the lack of competition in the city, residents have been left having to pay upwards of $70-100 per month to connect to the internet at viable broadband speeds. The high price for access is a financial barrier to many in the community, leaving between 25-35% of the city’s residents without affordable internet service at their homes.

SFI, in partnership with Connect Humanity, will use the best practices and lessons learned as a result of this pilot program to guide the expansion of this initiative to 70 more broadband deserts across the country that are home to HBCUs. By creating similar expansion plans in these communities, SFI will support more institutions of higher education and improve their capacity to teach and train a diverse pipeline of students.

“This public-private partnership will be transformative for Orangeburg and the surrounding regions,” said Robert F. Smith, Founder and Board Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative, and Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. “This will offer countless opportunities to residents, businesses and other local institutions, such as Claflin University and South Carolina State. These two HBCUs will have expanded broadband services to connect their students to the internet and provide a more modern educational experience, preparing them to enter the workforce of tomorrow. In our increasingly digital economy, we must ensure that everyone has equitable access to the internet if we are to close the dual opportunity and racial wealth gaps that exist in this country.”

During this phase of the partnership, the Orangeburg DPU will implement the strategy outlined in the City of Orangeburg’s Digital Access Infrastructure Plan that the partners developed during the first phase of this initiative. This comprehensive digital roadmap provides a reliable path forward that will encourage new broadband providers to establish services throughout the city.

“This is an incredibly exciting partnership for Orangeburg, one that will power growth across our entire community,” said Warren Harley, General Manager of Orangeburg DPU. “There are so many members of our community who lack access to what has become a necessary component for engaging with the rest of the country and our economy. Once we are able to fully connect more people online across the city, we will create more efficient and effective government services, expand economic opportunities for current residents and allow new industries to come to Orangeburg and thrive.”

“We are extremely excited to launch the next phase of this important partnership,” said Erica Mesker, Director of Partnerships for Connect Humanity. “The ability to work with like-minded partners has greatly accelerated our progress in delivering digital equity for underserved communities. Digital connectivity will only continue to become more critical across education and business, and by expanding access to the internet we will ensure that these communities can benefit economically and socially from the ongoing digital revolution.”

About Student Freedom Initiative

A single purpose nonprofit organization, Student Freedom Initiative aims to reduce the wealth gap through the lens of education. This is achieved by providing a catalyst for freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (“MSIs”) by increasing their social and economic mobility using a student centric, evidence based, holistic, and collaborative approach. Initially focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Student Freedom Initiative enables mobility through four transformational components: (1) Student Freedom Fund as an income contingent alternative to Parent Plus loans, (2) Internships and industry-driven certifications, (3) Tutoring/Mentorships/Other Services, and (4) Targeted HBCU Capacity Building (e.g., access to affordable broadband, strengthening endowment governance and risk adjusted returns, workforce development in clean energy). Student Freedom Initiative collaborates with community-based organizations, businesses, and governmental entities through public-private partnerships to make sustainable, systemic changes to support the entire HBCU ecosystem.

To date, Student Freedom Initiative has received generous contributions from Robert F. Smith, Fund 2 Foundation, Cisco, Jane Street,Prudential, First Republic, and the Walmart Foundation. The program has also been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable's Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education. Our ability to provide support to MSI students is based on the continued financial support of these donors and others interested in supporting our mission.

To learn more, visit www.StudentFreedomInitiative.org or find us on Twitter @StudentFreedom.

About Connect Humanity

The mission of Connect Humanity is to accelerate digital equity by supporting, catalyzing, and scaling holistic solutions by providing people with the internet access and means needed to participate fully in a digital society. Connect Humanity works with nonprofit and for-profit organizations to fulfill this mission, and to increase the knowledge, capital, and partners that a community needs to achieve their digital equity goals. Learn more at ConnectHumanity.fund.