RAPID CITY, S.D. — As part of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's plan to expand rural internet access across South Dakota, the state is granting $5 million to help complete eight broadband expansion projects by the end of the year.

The Governor's Office in a Tuesday, May 28, news release announced the first round of awards in Noem's Connect South Dakota program. The program's initial $5 million grants are planned to leverage more than $11.4 million in total project costs through public-private partnerships.

According to the news release, this spring's awards will benefit an estimated 100 businesses and 4,800 residents, and are expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Expanding rural broadband has been a talking point of Noem's since she took office in January, and she first proposed the $5 million program during her January budget address. The allocation was approved by legislators during the 2019 session.

In Tuesday's release, Noem called the program "a step toward closing the broadband gap in South Dakota and equipping our kids for the jobs of the future."

"Raising the next generation with access to online resources is our responsibility as parents and citizens," she said.

All but one of the eight awarded projects are for communities located in the eastern half of the state. In an emailed response, Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Governor's Office of Economic Development Mary Lehecka Nelson said the single West River awardee was the only applicant from the western region.

"The entire telecommunications industry in SD was invited to participate, regardless of geographic serving area," Lehecka Nelson wrote.

She said there was a total of 10 applications received, eight of which were approved. A group of government, technology and grant experts reviewed the applications based on the rurality of the project areas, performance of the project, companies' ability to exceed the grant matching requirements and whether farms, businesses, "critical community facilities" or reservation lands would be served.

In Tuesday's news release, Noem said her administration's assessment found the most need "in some of the outer rings around communities that don’t have the population density of a city or town and aren’t rural enough to qualify for federal rural broadband dollars."

The greatest single award — taking up more than half of the total $5 million allocation — went to Venture Communications for a project benefiting Hughes County. The second-largest grant award is going to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority to benefit Timber Lake.

The grants were awarded for these projects:

  • $2,764,759 to Venture Communications of Highmore, to serve Hughes County
  • $474,500 to Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority of Eagle Butte, to benefit Timber Lake
  • $441,470 to Mitchell Telecom Mitchell, to benefit Davison County
  • $361,500 RC Technologies of New Effington, to benefit Kranzburg and Codington County
  • $306,199 to Midco Communications of Sioux Falls, to benefit Clay and Union counties
  • $269,428 to Alliance Communications of Garretson, to benefit northeastern Minnehaha and southeastern Moody counties
  • $253,300 to Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative of Clear Lake, to benefit Codington County
  • $128,844 to Vast Broadband of Sioux Falls, to benefit the Irene Wakonda and Alsen areas