The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced that it was authorizing nearly $5 million to invest in expanding rural broadband access across South Dakota. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who visited South Dakota with me in 2017, said that he was “excited to see the benefits for rural residents who live all across the country.” He went on to say, “In South Dakota, this round of funding takes another step toward closing the digital divide, providing access to digital opportunity to nearly 900 more unserved rural homes and businesses.”
This might come as a surprise to folks who don’t live in the heartland, but believe or not, there are still many places in America that don’t have basic cell phone service, let alone high-speed rural broadband. This technology obviously exists, though, which is why I so strongly share Chairman Pai’s commitment to “closing the digital divide” in rural America, particularly in parts of South Dakota that have been underserved or unserved all together over the years.
This effort means so much more than ensuring customers can stream their favorite Netflix show a little bit faster. For many families and businesses, having access to reliable broadband services means connecting to the world in ways they haven’t been able to do before. It means tapping into markets that have been unreachable or accessing information that has been beyond their fingertips for far too long. Long story short, it means bringing these communities further into the 21st century.
I became chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet earlier this year, and the very first hearing I convened was on the state of rural broadband in America. I wanted the subcommittee and the rest of my Senate colleagues to hear directly from South Dakota companies that are helping lead the way in expanding access to rural broadband, so I invited representatives from Golden West Telecommunications and Midcontinent Communications, which will be responsible for most of the infrastructure work related to this latest round of FCC funding, to participate. Their insight was invaluable, and the work they’re doing in this space should be applauded.
According to the FCC’s recent broadband deployment reports, the number of Americans lacking access to a fixed broadband connection has continued to decline, but this issue will continue to be a priority for me until we’ve closed that gap entirely for everyone who wants access to broadband. As folks in South Dakota know, rural America has a lot to offer, and with the potential for new and more efficient broadband infrastructure, there will be even more meaningful opportunities for advancements in health care, agriculture, education, economic development, and more.