Until now, telecommunications companies that serve rural South Dakota have had trouble documenting their beliefs that rural residents of the state generally enjoy better broadband services than their peers across the United States.
The claim might sound boastful, but its accuracy is documented in a new report, which also highlights the substantial economic investments that rural telecoms have made in recent years in South Dakota’s telecommunications infrastructure.
The 2018 report is titled, “Connecting South Dakota’s Future: A Report on the Deployment & Impact of Rural Broadband.” The South Dakota Dashboard, an online community information service, compiled the report for the South Dakota Telecommunications Association and SDN Communications.
SDTA released the report Aug. 20 during a news conference the same day at an SDTA gathering in Brookings.
“We’re very proud of the results contained in this document because it clearly shows that South Dakota’s community-based, rural telecommunications providers have made a significant commitment along with substantial financial investment to make high-speed, affordable, broadband services available to all customers within their respective service areas,” said Richard Coit, executive director of SDTA.
Noteworthy findings in the 22-page report include:
- Between 2013 and 2017, the state’s rural telecommunications companies invested nearly $392 million in fiber optic lines, switches, equipment building and other long-term assets. That generated nearly $480 million in total economic impact.
- In 2017, SDTA’s member companies served more than 65 percent of their customers with fiber to their homes or businesses. In contrast, a national survey in 2016 found rural companies across the country serve just more than 40 percent of their customers via fiber-to-the-premises.
- Just more than half of all South Dakotans live in non-metropolitan areas that SDTA member companies serve. The combined service area of the companies covers more than 76 percent of the state’s geography.
The increasing importance of digital communications was among the big topics at the SDTA news conference.
“The future really is digital. That’s the way things are moving. It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York City or Kennebec. There’s a lot going on and what we need to do is make sure South Dakota – especially rural South Dakota – is positioned well,” said Dr. Jared McEntaffer, Dashboard project director and regional economist.
“South Dakota is ahead of the curve. Sometimes we think that life here is remote and behind the times. But when it comes to fiber deployment, the work being done (here in South Dakota) stands out,” McEntaffer said.
In addition to homes and businesses, SDTA members serve 402 schools, and 94 percent of them have fiber service. However, good connectivity is also important to population segments such as people who are elderly. Good internet give older South Dakotans access to services such as security and shopping, which can help them stay longer in their homes.
The rural nature of South Dakota presents challenges, though. SDTA companies serve more than 60,000 square miles of land – a lot of which has more cows than people.
Loan and grant help from programs such as the U.S. Department Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the federal Universal Service Fund have helped bridge cost differences and sped up broadband deployment in rural South Dakota. Continued support of such programs is important to continued broadband deployment, according to SDTA leaders.
SDTA’s membership is comprised of cooperatives and small commercial, municipal and tribal telecommunications companies. Most of the SDTA’s 18 member companies also are member-owners of SDN Communications, a leading regional provider of broadband connectivity and cybersecurity services to businesses and institutions.
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