For Leon SwiftBird and Aaron Olson to get adequate internet and cell service at their home in Silver City, they need three satellites.
Yes, you read that correctly - three.
“We use them all. We just have to toggle through which will work the best each day,” says SwiftBird.
Even with the three satellites and a cell booster, making a cell phone call at their home is inconsistent. It makes running Olson’s septic services business and their cabin rental business - Shady Pines Vacation Rentals - challenging to say the least.
“If you’re near the booster, you can make a phone call. But it’s not strong enough to use for internet browsing,” he says. “A lot of residents in Silver City have no connection to the internet … just a standard landline.”
Luckily, things are about to get easier thanks to ReConnect.
SDN Communications’ ReConnect projects will make high-speed internet available to the communities of Silver City, Nemo, and Rochford and could help cell phone providers bring service to those communities and a section of Highway 385 for the first time. It can’t come soon enough for Leon.
“We really look forward to it (ReConnect) for sure. It will make things a lot easier.”
ReConnect 1 involves laying fiber along the stretch of Highway 44 from Rapid City to Highway 385 before branching off to Nemo, Rochford and Silver City. ReConnect 2 travels along Highway 385, connecting Lead and Hill City.
The two projects will require 85 miles of fiber, which will connect 10 120-foot monopoles. The project was originally expected to cost $12.5 million with approximately 75% coming from federal funds and SDN picking up the rest. However, with inflation, labor and supply chain costs, the first project is $2 million over budget, which SDN will have to fund; the second project's budget overages are still unknown. New estimates have boosted the cost to put fiber in the ground from the an average $65,000 per mile to $100,000 per mile.
Contractors broke ground and started laying fiber to Silver City last week and have poured the concrete base for a monopole near the community hall. Jake VanDewater, SDN Vice President of Engineering, Operations and IT, says the timeline is to have one pole up with service by the end of the year.
While residents like Leon and Aaron look forward to ReConnect making their daily lives and work easier, Silver City Fire Chief Phil Schlief looks forward to the project making things safer.
Currently, the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department makes do with extremely limited cell service and internet. Schlief says that when a fire call comes into the department - through pagers - he never knows how many of his volunteer firefighters will respond. Coming from locations throughout the Silver City area, the volunteers can’t text or call him because they have no mobile service.
While Schlief waits at the station to see how many of his crew will arrive - wasting critical firefighting/first responder time - he also can’t use a laptop to map the location of the fire or take advantage of other fire management software.
And it’s not just the Silver City area that’s at added risk. Last year, crews on the Hat Mountain Fire sent out a call for help from area departments. Due to communications issues, Silver City couldn’t respond.
“Part of that was communication - partially from radios, partially from not knowing the availability of our firefighters,” says Schlief.
Schlief has been watching the ReConnect project closely and has begun to put “the pieces in place on our end.” The department will buy computer equipment and software. Volunteer firefighters will finally have cell service on their personal phones, making the logistics of preparing for and fighting fires much more streamlined.
“Individually, the firefighters will have connectivity and be able to easily let us know if they’re coming or not,” he says. “It’s certainly going to be helpful to have that connectivity.”
SwiftBird couldn’t agree more. A literacy coach with the Rapid City Area Schools District, he looks forward to the day he can easily get online to finish up work in the evenings. And the day Olson can do more of his work online for his business, Hills Septic Service.
“As far as running Aaron’s business, more and more things are becoming internet-based,” he says. “For him it can be challenging.”
“Our guests rely on that internet connection … almost all of our renters have told us they feel that way,” he says. “ReConnect can’t happen soon enough.”
People with property in the Black Hills or interest in the ReConnect projects can receive updates by subscribing to SDN Communications’ ReConnect Newsletter using the form below.
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.