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Feds Fund High-Speed Internet In Remote Black Hills Towns

Seth Tupper

John Gomez only gets 50 gigabytes of monthly data from his satellite internet service.  

“So basically no video is allowed in this house,” he said. “After the 50 gigs they basically throttle you and you have very slow internet.” 

To enforce that no-video rule, he’s had to get militant. 

“When guests come over to my house they basically are warned not to connect to any videos. All of our computers have video filters to stop them.” 

But that’s about to change. 

Three small communities in the Black Hills – Silver City, Rochford and Nemo – will soon have access to improved internet because of a government grant. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office is awarding $3.3 million to SDN Communications in South Dakota through the ReConnect Program. SDN will add its own $1.1 million investment to install high-speed internet service for 292 residents, two farms and 14 businesses in the three communities. 

Gomez lives in Silver City, a tiny community tucked into a remote pocket of the Black Hills above Pactola Reservoir. His satellite internet has caused hassles from minor to major. For instance, one of his kids is living out of state with an older sibling to access the internet for remote college courses.   

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the grant in a Zoom meeting Tuesday. He said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of high-speed access. 

“We have a lot of challenges here with distance education, telemedicine, e-commerce, socialization, precision agriculture, in many parts of our country that can’t participate in this modern economy the way we’ve been experiencing the last few weeks," Perdue said.

SDN hopes to start installation immediately and finish by next year. The project will include 45 miles of fiber-optic cable to get service out to the three communities. Towers will then transmit fixed wireless broadband internet to subscribing households and businesses. 

SDN CEO Mark Shlanta said the rocky terrain of the Black Hills is an obstacle to high-speed fiber-optic cable installation that requires government help to overcome. 

“Those granite hills surrounding Nemo, Rochford, and Silver City are hard to penetrate,” Shlanta said. “In fact, burying fiber will cost more than $65,000 a mile. It is an expensive project that would not pencil out without this public-private partnership.” 

SDN also hopes the installation of the towers will attract wireless phone providers to co-locate on the towers, to improve cell-phone service. 

- Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter

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