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Bringing broadband to disconnected rural areas, a top priority in South Dakota

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 10:37 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Over the past two days, we’ve shown you how South Dakota’s poor broadband infrastructure negatively impacts businesses and public safety in the Black Hills.

Now, telecomm companies are taking the first steps in reconnecting our rural areas to the rest of the State, laying the foundation for 5-G.

11 towers, 85-miles of fiber and millions of dollars of grant money are all part of the plan to bring high-speed internet to communities along Highway 385.

Vernon Brown, the Vice President of Marketing for SND Communications it looking to the future. “I think we all learned through COVID how important that connectivity is.”

In late June, SDN Communications took the first steps in the area by surveying future sites for rural broadband towers. This is all part of the Federal Reconnect Program.

From Lead to just outside of Hill City there is currently a broadband dead-zone with almost no existing infrastructure to speak of. Service providers will have to start from scratch.

“First, we’ll have to plow the fiber in, build those monopoles and then put the equipment on that will serve some of the residents that are not on the exact fiber route,” explained Brown.

SDN estimates that every mile of fiber will cost roughly $65,000. Every tower built will come at a cost of around a quarter of a million dollars.

To pay for that, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing over $9 million in grants, and SDN is investing about a third of that to bring this project to fruition.

“As part of the grant, we had to determine where it was either underserved, or no service at all because the federal government isn’t going to put money into projects where there’s already broadband existing,” said Brown.

Senator John Thune, who has long pushed to implement 5G in the United States, says that building a 4G backbone is an important step in the process., however as a result of the pandemic, the future of 5G might still be a long way off. “Construction got shut down, things weren’t happening out there during the pandemic because, obviously, people were working from home, working remotely. Many of the construction sites got shut down, at least temporarily,” he said.

Brown added that, “Right now, the bigger priority is really getting that basic broadband to every resident in the state.”

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