SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Capitol Hill came to KELOLAND Thursday to explore ways of bridging the digital divide spanning town and country. U.S. Senator John Thune chaired a field hearing in Sioux Falls of the Senate Sub-committee on Communications. The hearing comes as more federal dollars are going to improve broadband access.
In August, the FCC authorized another $121-million to expand broadband in 16 states, including South Dakota. It’s part of an ongoing effort by the agency to provide billions of dollars for rural broadband in the years ahead.
This Senate Communications Subcommittee field hearing brought industry leaders to the table to look at ways of expanding broadband coverage to rural areas that have been missing out on the technology.
“Things that are coming down the line like tele-health, online banking, those are things that cannot be done unless you have reliable broadband connectivity,” SDN Communications CEO Mark Shlanta said.
U.S. Senator John Thune says South Dakota is well-positioned to receive millions in federal funding to expand access in the coming years.
“Total in South Dakota, we’re going to get the allocation to our state over time, $700-million, it’s going to be a real infusion,” Sen. John Thune, (R) South Dakota said.
Dakota State University expects to play a leading role in developing rural broadband while keeping its graduates in the state to start their careers.
“We have the students that are really interested in the technology per se, and we have those students who are much more interested in the applications of the technology to the mission of some kind, health care, or education in the schools, or whatever,” Dakota State University President José-Marie Griffiths said.
But while more federal dollars are coming to develop rural broadband, building-out those networks can be a challenge in a state like South Dakota.
“Just construction season alone in South Dakota makes it kind of challenging. They tend to be able to lay fiber, for example, up until the end of September. But then as the frost hits the ground, it’s harder to do that,” Thune said.
Broadband expansion in South Dakota won’t happen overnight, but Thune says with the commitment of internet providers and federal funding, eventually it will happen.
South Dakota ranks as the 32nd most connected state in the country. You can see how we compare to our neighboring states by clicking here