Prioritizing Broadband Infrastructure in 2021

South Dakota’s governor proposes to invest $100 million to provide better broadband access

By Governor Kristi Noem 

As America’s founders were drafting our Constitution, they determined that communication was so important to the business of the people and the nation that they empowered Congress to establish post roads across the country. Since then, the speed of business has grown exponentially, and the 21st century has seen near-universal adoption of a different kind of post road: the internet. As a result, broadband infrastructure that connects Americans to high-speed internet access in their homes and businesses is one of the best investments a state can make in 2021. 

Here in South Dakota, we have 27,000 households that have no access to broadband whatsoever, and several thousand more whose connection is inadequate for their daily needs — especially with the new demands brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like many other rural states, we have thoughtfully considered how we can best expand and enhance our broadband infrastructure to ensure that every one of our residents has access to reliable, high-speed internet. 

It is hard to overstate the benefits of broadband access. For farmers and ranchers, broadband makes it easier to communicate with their suppliers, access weather forecasts, and participate in online marketing and auctions. It also allows them to take advantage of precision agriculture technologies, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates could add $64.5 billion to the nation’s economy every year. Agriculture is the largest industry in South Dakota, and the industry supports over 22 million jobs across the U.S. It is critical that we are setting our farmers and ranchers up for success for many years to come. 

Universal broadband access also ensures that the next generation of entrepreneurs can build and grow a business without having to live in a big city. With high-speed internet, any small business owner can reach an entire world of potential customers with the click of a button and launch a lifelong career in their hometown.

Population loss in rural communities has been a long-term trend in America, but the coronavirus pandemic has given us an opportunity to win these people back. In order to do so, we must make it possible for them to work, start businesses and grow companies — and one of the most critical components to that equation is high-speed internet.  

Finally, and of particular importance with this year’s events, broadband tangibly improves the lives of our students by making it possible for them to do schoolwork at home. In addition to remote learning, which became essential for many this year, broadband allows students to take advantage of online educational videos, virtual tutoring, practice tests and other helpful resources to supplement the education they receive in the classroom. 

Investing in broadband infrastructure pays dividends for every state’s families, business owners and communities. For 2021, I am proposing that South Dakota invest $100 million dollars to fully connect the state. If spent wisely and strategically, this investment in broadband will bring significant returns to our state, and it will also lay the foundation for the infrastructure of the future. 

Autonomous vehicles will need extensive — and fast — broadband networks in order to navigate the roads effectively. Sensors will need to be installed on telephone poles, in roads, and on bridges so that these self-driving vehicles can safely and accurately pilot the world around them. 

Beyond autonomous vehicles, broadband also has the potential to unlock many exciting opportunities to enhance our infrastructure in the future, from smart utility grids and energy management technologies to better traffic and waste management strategies. These new technologies hold immense potential for our country, and we should be laying the groundwork for them through our infrastructure investments today. 

Most importantly, however, universal broadband access will improve the lives of our residents right now and preserve the rural way of life for the future. We must ensure that no one needs to choose between the modern economy on the one hand—a career, an educational opportunity, a better health outcome—and life in their hometown on the other. 

For any person, or business, looking for a place where they can live their life as they choose without missing out on anything modern society has to offer, I invite you to come join us here in South Dakota.  

Governor Kirsti Noem is the 33rd and current governor of South Dakota.