Blog & Tools

Lack of connectivity in Black Hills more than just an inconvenience

Silver City Volunteer Fire Department with truck and banner to prevent fires
Silver City Volunteer Fire Department

When Silver City Fire Chief Phil Schlief gets a fire call, he never knows how many of his volunteer firefighters are responding.

They can’t text or call him before they drive into the fire station. The internet and cell phone connectivity in this remote Black Hills community, located 23 miles west of Rapid City, is just too limited.

Silver City Volunteer Fire Department spraying a grassy area
Silver City Volunteer Fire Department

While Schlief waits at the station to see how many of his crew will arrive - wasting critical firefighting time - he can’t use a laptop to map the location of the fire or take advantage of other fire management software.

The lack of internet and cell service in the Silver City area is much more than just a convenience problem as far as Schlief is concerned.

map of the USDA ReConnect Route in the Black Hills

This will all change once SDN Communications buries 85 miles of fiber, which will finally make high-speed internet and cell service available to five Black Hills communities

  • Silver City
  • Nemo
  • Rochford
  • Hill City
  • Lead/Deadwood well as the surrounding areas.

Made possible through $9.3 million in ReConnect Program grants from the United States Department of Agriculture and $3.1 million in matching funds from SDN, the project was initially set to begin this summer with a completion goal of 2023.

Unfortunately, the project is currently in limbo as permits through the U.S. Forest Service have been delayed.

For those living in that area, the project can’t happen soon enough.

From a business standpoint, the possibility of broadband internet in these Pennington and Lawrence counties also raises hopes and possibilities.

Karrie & Kevin Eilbeck with their dog, Ellie

Kevin Eilbeck, the owner of Kevin Eilbeck Photography in Rapid City, hopes to someday move to Silver City permanently. Eilbeck and his wife own a cabin there, but it’s not feasible to work there. As a photographer who uploads and edits images online, high-speed internet is a must. Without it, he simply can’t do business.

“I’m excited about the prospect, and I’d like to see that sped along,” he says.

Jodi Sugrue and her husband, Jeff, drive 2 ½ hours east to their farm outside of Presho to “keep things up … and to have high-speed internet.”

The couple has had a home in Silver City since 2002, but the internet is slow and nearly double the cost of service at the Presho farm through Kennebec Telephone Company, a member-owner of SDN Communications.

“It's frustrating in Silver City, to not be able to manage the farm security cameras in Presho, to only be able to watch Zoom meetings (audio is too slow to participate), to not be able to follow grain markets live, to not have weather radar on consistently, we are unable to download device updates … the list goes on and on,” she says.

With so much unknown, it’s also difficult for potential businesses to locate or expand in the Black Hills. Andy and Alicia Edsen know a little about this.

The Omaha couple owns land at Three Forks, about four miles east of Hill City. They are in the planning stages of a 300-person event center for weddings, business gatherings, family reunions, etc.

The lack of connectivity, “is going to limit some of the things we can do there,” Alicia says. “It might limit the types of groups that could come in because of their needs related to the internet.”

Screenshot of Double Diamond Ranch

Alicia’s parents own and operate Double Diamond Ranch near Three Forks, which offers vacation rentals. The Edsen’s have bought into the property as well.

“They see firsthand every day with their renters calling to say the internet is slow or that they can’t get on the internet,” she says. “We have to post signs saying please don’t stream and please don’t use TikTok … Please don’t do things people are used to doing.”

During business planning meetings in the area, the Edsens have personally seen how difficult it is to do business without reliable internet and cell service. Doing video conferences, and even getting emails has proven challenging.

Alicia sees the need for connectivity as intrinsically linked to business development in the Hill City area. Even attracting people who want to live and work remotely in the Black Hills is more difficult without it. Her cousin moved to Hill City to work remotely but was forced recently to relocate to Austin, Texas, because the lack of connectivity didn’t allow her to do business.

“For bringing people into the Hills and keeping people in the Hills … to attract people in this day and age, they have to have the ability to work anywhere,” she says. “That takes internet."

Currently, the event center is scheduled to break ground in spring 2022 with a fall 2022 opening date planned. In the long term, the couple would like to return to the Black Hills (Alicia attended Hill City High School her senior year). But connectivity will need to come first.

“I just think there’s such an opportunity there,” she says. “It’s very needed.”

SDN Communications is a leader in providing business internet, private networking and cloud connectivity to businesses and organizations in communities such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Worthington, and the surrounding areas.