SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Expanding and upgrading broadband has been on Gov. Noem’s radar since she took office.
“Half our counties have rural areas where one in four people don’t have adequate internet access. Some counties have rural areas where half the residents don’t have reliable access. We must close the broadband gap to ensure South Dakotans can work and hire locally while selling globally,” Noem said in her Jan. 9, 2019, State of the State address.
A portion of her address was included in a 2019 Broadband Plan for the state released in May 2019.
In general, broadband means constant, fast and high quality internet.
Tuesday, the Governor and a Federal Communications Commissioner announced a project of 500 miles of fiber to connect over 170 locations near Rowena. It’s part of a $100 million plan over the next five years to expand broadband in the state.
The investment is driven by $25 million in CARES Act money from the federal government and a $75 million state investment.
Noem said Tuesday that connecting every part of the state is important, especially rural areas.
When the 2019 broadband plan was released, 25% of the state’s population lived in rural South Dakota.
The state had an internet download speed of 17.38 Mbps to rank 35th in the U.S. in internet speed.
The first place state had a speed of 36.69 Mbps, according to the 2019 state plan.
But internet speeds have increased since then, according to two sources who track internet progress and service in the U.S.
BroadBand Now said as of Feb. 21. South Dakota had the second slowest average download speed in the nation at 74.5 Mbps.
Noem and the state are focused on increasing that speed.
Ian Fury, the Governor’s communications, director, said projects funded this year and into the future are required to meet speeds of 100 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.
In a state with the highest concentration of population in eastern South Dakota in Sioux Falls and north along the I-29 corridor, BroadBand Now said 61.9% of the state’s population has access to gigabit speeds, and 31.9% have access to fiber-optic internet services, which is higher than the national average.
While most of South Dakota’s population has internet speeds of 10 Mbps (uploads) as of May 4, according to Broadband Search, 27% of the state still has no internet connection.
Thirty-two percent of the state had coverage with 100 Mbps or less, according to Broadband Search.
What if I live in Turner County or Minnehaha County?
According to Broadband Now, 66% of Turner County has a broadband coverage. Minnehaha County has 98.6% coverage.
Brookings County had 97.7% coverage while Codington County had 93.8%.
The coverage in Charles Mix was 54.8% but Buffalo County, which includes the Crow Creek Reservation has 100%. Buffalo County is one of the state’s least populated county.
Jones County, another county with fewer than 1,500 people had 54% coverage.
Why is internet connection a big deal?
The Center for Rural Affairs, based in Nebraska, said in 2018 that connectivity was a “map to prosperity” in the 21st Century.
Broadband access is a key driver in today’s economy citing advantages for small businesses, farm operations and others as they add new technology for savings and efficiencies.
Twenty years ago, there were studies that pointed out the advantages of internet connections.
A 2001 report by the Brookings Institute concluded that the internet will produce significant cost savings in many sectors of the economy, resulting in faster productivity growth. The report cited possible advantages in productivity through telecommuting. The reported also cited potential gains in supply chain management and operations in health care and government.
A 2000 report by International Technology and Trade Associates (ITTA) Inc. said the “impact of the Internet on the U.S. economy has been profound.” Not only did it help create jobs but also led to e-commerce, as examples.
Advantages and gaps in internet service were illustrated during the pandemic as companies allowed employees to work from home using internet and schools converted from in classroom learning to internet or virtual learning learning.
Education Week pointed out in April of 2020 that rural schools reported connectivity problems when using virtual learning.
Noem making progress with broadband
Since Noem took office the state has invested $47 million in broadband expansion, Fury said.
Of the $47 million, $25 million is from the CARES Act, Fury said.
When 2020 ended, 16,421 new locations were served, Fury said.
The Governor’s priorities portion on a state website list some various projects funded by the state. Some projects include $441,470 to Mitchell Telecom which serves rural Davison County and $253,300 to Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative of Clear Lake which serves rural Codington County. Some projects approved in 2020 included Northern Valley Communications, $933,832 for the rural Mina area and Faith Municipal Telephone, $493,163 for the Faith area, which used CARES Act money.