Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

Access, affordability slow rural internet access in South Dakota

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — As federal officials debate investing billions of dollars in broadband access, South Dakota is planning to invest $100 million as it struggles to extend reliable internet service to every corner of the state.

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Data reported by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader  suggests that many South Dakota schoolchildren and adults who worked from home during the pandemic struggled with sub-par access to high-speed internet, particularly in the state’s poorest and/or least populated counties.

Advocates say the “digital divide” across South Dakota and the rest of the U.S. is due largely to two factors: a lack of internet infrastructure in rural areas and relatively high costs that have made broadband unaffordable for many in urban centers.

In about half of South Dakota’s counties — 34 of 66 — measured by a Federal Communications Commission study, broadband access is available to at least 88% of residents. Yet in about half of the state measured by Microsoft — 33 of 65 counties — no more than 28% of households actually have high-speed access, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

That helps explain why the South Dakota Legislature and Gov. Kristi Noem earlier this year set aside $100 million — mostly federal pandemic relief money — to help the telecommunications industry build fiber lines and antenna towers in rural areas.

Last month, President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers reached a deal on a far-reaching infrastructure plan that would direct $65 billion to increase broadband connectivity from coast-to-coast. In South Dakota, 13% of residents don’t have adequate broadband infrastructure and 48% live in areas with only one internet provider, according to the White House.

The proportions of South Dakota households with high-speed access varies widely. In Mellette County, it’s just 5% and in Ziebach County, it’s 9%. Leading the state are Hyde County with 93%, Lincoln County with 77% and Potter County with 63%.

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Local health authorities have also been monitoring workers from farms with infected herds for symptoms — either through regular phone calls with farm supervisors or automated text messages that ask if they’ve been experiencing conjunctivitis or any flu-like symptoms, even mild ones.(Photo: shironosov/iStock)

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