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House approves spending $100 million to expand broadband service

  • Updated
State Capitol House

The South Dakota House of Representatives

PIERRE | A $100 million investment in the state’s broadband infrastructure was approved Monday afternoon in the S.D. House of Representatives.

SB34 calls for an appropriation of $100 million to expand rural access to broadband internet service. The money in the appropriation comes from $75 million in one-time state funding and $25 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

“This is a seriously considered, measured approach,” said Rep. Randy Gross, R-Elkton. The state’s one-time money has led to “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Gross noted that the funds will be spent as part of a 50-50 match with industry for a total broadband investment of $200 million.

Rep. Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City, questioned the investment of state funds. When the Legislature was considering a $5 million broadband investment in a previous session, Howard said lawmakers were told that 101,000 households lacked access to broadband. At this year’s hearing, Howard said lawmakers were told 135,000 households lacked access to broadband.

Howard explained that the state’s definition of broadband had changed, increasing the internet speed that households require.

“I just question why we should be continuing to go down this road,” Howard said.

Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, agreed, calling information lawmakers received about the state’s broadband needs only “partially reliable.”

Haugaard called internet service via satellite a viable option, noting estimates as high as $49,000 per mile to bury cable in some areas of the state.

“These are extraordinary expenses that don’t match up with the identified need,” Haugaard said.

Rep. Timothy Goodwin, R-Rapid City, said satellites aren't reliable.

“Satellites aren’t secure,” Goodwin said. “They don’t work in bad weather.”

Rep. Kent Peterson, R-Salem, said some areas of South Dakota are broadband deserts. Some municipalities, Peterson said, even have trouble getting internet access at the edge of town.

“This is a very important piece of our puzzle,” Peterson said. “It shows our commitment to all corners of South Dakota.”

SB34 was approved on a vote of 52-16. Previously approved by the Senate, it now goes to Gov. Kristi Noem for her signature.

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