Not all in rural S.D. can access high-speed Internet

Farm Forum

MISSION HILL, S.D. (AP) — In the era of Googling this and Googling that, a high-speed Internet connection can be a necessity for education and economic development. Yet in some small towns in South Dakota, that connection is practically nonexistent for residents.

Some communities such as Mission Hill in southeast South Dakota need the speed of broadband Internet connectivity to cope with the growing flood of data generated through farm equipment, cellphones and other technologies, the Argus Leader reported. But supporters of expanding broadband access say it isn’t easy to convince service providers to spend money to bring the technology to homes in areas where the cost would be far higher than it is in more populated regions of the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission has estimated that about 15 million Americans live in areas, mostly rural, where fixed broadband networks do not reach.

“It’s all around us, but we don’t have anything. There is no real reason to come to Mission Hill because we don’t have the opportunities. It’s not there, technology-wise,” said LeAnne Cutts, 48, finance officer for the town and owner of a grain elevator, the city’s only business.

Mission Hill residents are left to access the Internet on their phones or through satellites, but the system drastically slows down when students are off for the summer or at home after school and browsing seemingly endlessly, the newspaper reported.

The state has surveyed thousands of agricultural producers and found that they are increasingly using the Internet for various purposes, including checking the price of commodities.

Cutts, for example, must refresh websites to check market prices when corn is being sent to ethanol plants.

“To get the people that you would like to move to town and to make it look nice and to keep it up and to care about your town, broadband – not having it available or having what we have but not at speeds that can keep up with life today – is definitely hurting,” Cutts said.

In many areas such as Mission Hill, broadband providers need government or private funding to help compensate for the higher costs, and the federal government is focusing on speeding up the rollout of broadband to the millions of people who are unserved.

“There is some work that needs to be done in rural America,” said Doug O’Brien, deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Rural Development agency. “There is no doubt that for people in rural America to participate in the 21st century economy, whether it’s a national or international market, they need broadband.”