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Santel bringing high-speed internet to rural Yankton, Vermillion

Map shows areas near Yankton and Vermillion that are getting fiber internet from Santel Communications.
This map shows the area that is getting fiber internet near Yankton and Vermillion from Santel Communications.

About 900 locations are set to receive fiber internet coverage in the rural Yankton and Vermillion areas thanks to Santel Communications and a grant from ConnectSD.

Santel, based in Woonsocket, received a $13.4 million grant in the final round of broadband awards the State of South Dakota handed out in late December to cover the 243-square mile area. Property owners will have the option to receive Santel’s phone, internet and TV services.

Here’s what you need to know about the grant, when construction will be completed and more:

What areas are covered by the ConnectSD grant?

Santel Communications will install fiber in two large rural areas of Yankton and Vermillion. Neither section is adjacent to Santel's existing coverage area, so the company will reach them through SDN Communications’ network. That network interconnects Santel, SDN's 16 other member companies and other communities across the state including Vermillion and Yankton.

Workers dig in fiber for Santel Communications in this file photo.
Workers dig in fiber for Santel Communications in this 2020 file photo.

The regions are some of the last in the state to receive access to fiber internet.

Santel Communications General Manager Ryan Thompson said that’s because the properties are so far apart. He says it isn’t financially feasible for a company to take on all the costs of getting fiber internet to homes and businesses in the area.

“The population density has always been the challenge,” Thompson said.

Even so, Thompson said the Santel Board of Directors saw the need and stepped up to fill it.

“Our board said, ‘Somebody has got to address this,'” Thompson said. “The board takes on another level of risk that we've maybe not dealt with before, but we're getting to know new neighbors and friends and that's what we'll be doing for the next couple of years.

“The one thing that makes it very possible is that the SDN network is down there, and by using our industry connections, we don't have to build crazy transport networks.”

When will Santel construction start and finish?

Crews expect to start digging in the required 500 miles of fiber this fall starting with the Vermillion section and the Yankton section soon after. Some customers could receive service by the end of the year; the goal is to connect the rest of the sites by the end of 2025.

Thomspon said Santel Communications will start to reach out to affected property owners by late spring to provide them with information.

At that point, Santel representatives will determine the nuances of the property, such as locating utility lines and the best place to bring service into the home.

Santel Communications logo
Santel Communications logo

How important is the ConnectSD grant to the project?

Put simply, Thompson says, the rural areas near Yankton and Vermillion wouldn’t receive fiber internet if it wasn’t for the grants. It’s just not financially feasible for any one company to put that much resources into reaching a small customer base over a large area.

Thompson also credits the state for its foresight in selecting the technologies that are being used.

“They've chosen to stack their chips behind a fiber provider because the longevity of that investment is very different than on just another wireless provider or somebody that uses old cable to get to the site. They made a long-term commitment and we're a long-term thinking company. So, we look at it as we have to have a business plan that can show us how we could support this for the next 30 to 40 years.”

Three providers received $32.4 million and are using almost $8 million in matching funds to connect more than 2,160 households, farms and businesses, according to the Governor's Office of Economic Development.