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

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

The Orangeburg Utilities Department will begin implementation of the city’s digital access infrastructure strategic plan to create an open-access network for residents of the community

ORANGEBURG, South Carolina, December 01, 2022–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today, Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), along with the Orangeburg Department of Public Services (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 high-speed Internet access options throughout the city of Orangeburg and enable Claflin University and South Carolina State, two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to provide their students 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 must pay upwards of $70 to $100 per month to connect to the internet at viable broadband speeds. The high price of access is a financial barrier for many in the community, leaving between 25 and 35 percent of the city’s residents without affordable Internet service in their homes.

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

“This public-private partnership will be transformative for Orangeburg and surrounding areas,” said Robert F. Smith, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Student Freedom Initiative, and Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. “This will provide countless opportunities for residents, businesses, and other local institutions, such as Claflin University and South Carolina State. Both of these HBCUs will have expanded broadband services to connect their students to 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 bridge the double opportunity and the racial wealth gaps that exist in this country.

During this phase of the partnership, DPU Orangeburg will implement the strategy outlined in the City of Orangeburg 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 across the city.

“This is an incredibly exciting partnership for Orangeburg that will drive growth for our entire community,” said Warren Harley, CEO of Orangeburg DPU. “There are so many members of our community who don’t have access to what has become a necessary part of 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 efficient businesses and 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 dramatically accelerated our progress on digital equity for underserved communities. Digital connectivity will only become more critical in education and business, and expanding the access to the Internet, we will ensure that these communities can benefit economically and socially from the ongoing digital revolution.”

About the Student Freedom Initiative

A single-purpose non-profit organization, Student Freedom Initiative aims to close the wealth gap through the lens of education. This is achieved by providing a catalyst for freedom in career and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (“MSI”) by increasing their social and economic mobility using a student-centered, evidence-based, holistic and collaborative. Initially focused on historically black colleges and universities, the Student Freedom Initiative enables mobility through four transformational components: (1) the Student Freedom Fund as an income-tested alternative to Parent Plus Loans , (2) Industry-focused internships and certifications, (3) Tutoring/Mentoring/Other services, and (4) Targeted HBCU capacity building (e.g. access to affordable broadband, strengthening governance risk-adjusted endowments and returns, clean energy workforce development). Student Freedom Initiative works with community organizations, businesses, and government entities through public-private partnerships to bring about lasting systemic change 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 recognized and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Subcommittee on Education for Racial Equity and Justice. Our ability to provide support for MSI students is based on the continued financial support of these donors and others interested in supporting our mission.

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

About Connect Humanity

Connect Humanity’s mission is to accelerate digital equity by supporting, catalyzing and developing holistic solutions by providing people with internet access and the means to fully participate in a digital society. Connect Humanity works with nonprofits and for-profits to fulfill this mission and grow the knowledge, capital, and partners a community needs to achieve its digital equity goals. Learn more at

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Dafna Tapiero

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