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Press Release

Op-Ed Piece: Broadband for the Next Generation

February 1, 2021

Commissioner Steve Westra

Preserving the rural way of life should mean no one has to make the choice of choosing modern technology on one hand and life in their hometown on the other. That’s why during this Legislative Session, Governor Kristi Noem and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development proposed a $100 million investment to permanently close the broadband gap in South Dakota.

Today, roughly 135,000 South Dakotans still don’t have access to reliable broadband. Our healthcare workers, students, teachers, business owners, professionals, farmers and ranchers have all been affected. Some have even had to sacrifice staying competitive as they remained home to use insufficient internet, while others had no internet at all.

We’ve been hard at work to fix this gap. During the last two years, the state has invested $10 million and $6.6 in CARES money to improve broadband in South Dakota. This $16.6 million has leveraged substantial federal and private investment, bringing the total investment in broadband in the state to $88.2 million. But we still have a lot of work to do.

Together, with $100 million of state funds, we will be able to leverage enough federal funding and private investment to give South Dakotans in every community level ground to remain competitive. This will be sustainable in the long-term and is a one-time investment from the state, not an ongoing expense. The market will be responsible for ongoing costs.

Let me give you a few examples that point to the importance of reliable internet access.

  • Kids in unserved areas across the country have been driving to McDonald’s, school parking lots, and other locations with free Wi-Fi just to get their homework done.
  • The ag world is seeing a transition from physical trading platforms and auctions to more online forums. If our farmers and ranchers can’t access these online forums, they cannot be competitive.
  • Reliable internet allows South Dakotans to manage their health by making appointments online, filling prescriptions virtually and instantly accessing their medical records.
  • It allows folks living anywhere in the state to become entrepreneurs— and have an entire world of potential customers at the click of a button.

I don’t think anyone can question the importance of broadband in today’s world. Governor Noem has made a commitment to ensure that every South Dakotan has reliable service today – and for years to come.

Now is the time to take the broadband project over the finish line and give all South Dakotans the reliable internet service they need. Let’s hope the legislators agree.

Originally published in the Rapid City Journal.

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