U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday that the USDA is investing $3.3 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved areas in Pennington and Lawrence counties. This investment is part of USDA’s round one investments through the ReConnect Pilot Program.
Perdue said the department chose western South Dakota in part because of the state's rural broadband program Gov. Kristi Noem has supported for the past two years.
"We work indirectly with states," he said. "When a state has skin in the game, it certainly adds points for how their applications are scored."
Perdue grew up in a rural area and knows the value an investment like this can have for an area.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” he said. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America
depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
USDA is providing a $3.3 million grant to help SDN Communications deploy fixed wireless broadband in rural areas of Pennington and Lawrence counties. This service area extends across 13 square miles and will provide broadband access to 275 people, 14 businesses and two farms.
Spending more than $11,000 per person in the area is a big investment.
"An investment this large requires a public and private partnership," Perdue said. "It just wouldn't make sense for a company to do it on their own. But when you empower people in rural areas, they show they are incredibly creative in how they use these resources."
SDN Communications will match USDA’s $3.3 million grant with $1.1 million of its money to construct 45 miles of fiber infrastructure.
“Those granite hills surrounding Nemo, Rochford and Silver City are hard to penetrate,” said SDN Communications CEO Mark Shlanta. “In fact, burying fiber will cost more than $65,000 a mile. It is an expensive project that would not pencil out without this public-private partnership.”
Although expensive, Shlanta says reliable connectivity is necessary for the residents and tourists. Without fiber optics, Black Hills wireless telephone and data service are also unreliable.
“Emergency service providers have told me about bad accidents — cars, ATVs, snowmobiles — where victims and emergency service providers
have no cell phone service. We hope this project will change that and improve public safety.”
Perdue said access to broadband internet in these areas is "literally transformative."
"This is no different than when telephone came in the 1950s," he said.
SDN has also submitted a 2020 ReConnect grant application to expand from the current award.
“The Black Hills have always been on SDN’s build list. I do not live there, but I am a South Dakotan who enjoys spending time there,” Shlanta said. “I believe this project and future expansions will make the region an even bigger draw.”
Reprinted courtesy of Rapid City Journal