Rural Broadband Opens Opportunities

One of my priorities as a public utilities commissioner has been to close the broadband gap in South Dakota. It’s commonly called the rural/rural divide. Citizens in portions of our state enjoy world class broadband while their neighbors living on the other side of a gravel road may have no internet access of any kind.

That dichotomy is largely a function of the capital investment strategy of the telecommunications company which serves the area. Some companies invest in fiber and cable to the home or farm. Others hold back on that investment offering only basic telephone service or very low speed internet access.

Making dollars available for that investment, in part, is a function of federal telecommunication policy which enables some companies to utilize federal universal service fund dollars to build broadband into unserved areas. I view my role as one of working to shape that federal policy and to encourage South Dakota companies to leverage those USF dollars with their own private capital to make the needed broadband investment. We are seeing success.

Last week I was in Avon, SD for a public input meeting on a proposed wind farm in their area. I asked the school superintendent about enrollment trends in the Avon district. He noted that enrollment is increasing and one of the reasons is because families are now able to live in the Avon area and work remotely because of the availability of robust broadband in their area. The local provider, Golden West, has built fiber optic connectivity to most of the rural parts of the Avon exchange offering very high speed and capacity broadband to those rural residents.

That quick story from the superintendent spoke volumes about the opportunities that open up in rural parts of our state when broadband made available. Young people and families now have options where to live. Many will choose our larger cities in South Dakota. Others, like those mentioned in Avon, want to live in our smaller communities while working remotely or perhaps starting an internet based business.

The obvious spinoff of that broadband availability is economic development and improved lifestyle options. It’s been said that technology creates deserts meaning that where technology is lacking a people exodus occurs. I refuse to allow that to happen in our state. As your public utilities commissioner I will continue pushing to close the broadband gap!