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Connect South Dakota project brings broadband to rural areas

Becky and Don Bergeson and their neighbors for miles around now have high speed Internet service, thanks to the Connect South Dakota project.

A Wednesday, Aug. 28, celebration ceremony highlighted the couple, the local Venture Communications company and this state funding program.

The Bergesons live at the end of a tenth-mile gravel drive, off a mile-long gravel road and four miles down a two-lane blacktop from the nearest town, Pierre.

“We are in a remote hole in here, surrounded by low hills,” said Becky Bergeson. “It’s so great to get service — reliable service — now.”

Becky had iced lemonade prepared for the celebration, though was too busy talking with Governor Kristi Noem and other officials to remember to put it out.

Noem said, because of the Connect South Dakota funding, about 700 additional people will receive broadband service from Venture Communications’ $2.76 million part of the program’s grant money.

Venture, based in Highmore, is expanding service into rural Hughes County.

Connect South Dakota is a state program designed to fund broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas across the state. With the funds approved by legislators in March 2018, the program has awarded $5 million to its first grant recipients.

“For years we couldn’t access the federal program because we didn’t have a state program,” said Noem. “We are obviously going to continue the program. This year’s natural disasters, farmers struggling, the state’s revenue being down, all this will impact what tax money gets spent. But we will still make broadband a priority. This is not a short-term commitment.”

“We were struggling to get even cell phone service,” said Don Bergeson. “Satellite services didn’t work. Now grandkids can come, and watch their movies and other things they do on the Internet. When I heard about the cables possibly coming in, I was on board.”

Don Bergeson often had to do Internet work from his convenience store in Blunt.

“Be nice to look at commodities. This will be amplified 100-fold, besides what our kids and grand kids can do,” he said.

“Last night it was right there,” said Becky Bergeson about full service being hooked up.

She said that Don was working on the computer, at home rather than at work, at 2 a.m. Becky suspects they were chosen for the celebration because Don was one of the first to sign up for program and a big promoter of it. He even encouraged neighbors to participate, which wasn’t at all hard.

“It’s being updated by the minute, but right now we have 334 hooked up,” said Fay Jandreau, operations manager for Venture. “We are bringing optic-fiber into these homes, laying it in the ground, most often using 96-count fiber, with 567 fiber being about the biggest main fiber on this project.”

Jandreau told of the partnering that was done to bury the fiber cable, hook up online technical terminals and “clamshell boxes,” and even booster signal units to homes. The boosters are so people can use WiFi devices out in their yards.

“We came together and helped each other,” said Rod Kusser, member service manager for Venture, of the partnering. Usually these projects take 10-12 months; this one was completed in just a couple of months. “Hopefully we can access these programs in the future. It’s important for people to know that without this program we wouldn’t be able to be out here providing service to such rural areas. I’ve heard that some homebuyers actually close on homes because of broadband coming in.”

Other companies awarded grants through the Connect South Dakota project include:

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority, Eagle Butte, serving Timber Lake, $474,500

Alliance Communications, Garretson, serving northeastern Minnehaha and southeastern Moody counties, $269,428

Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative, Clear Lake, serving Codington County, $253,300

Midco Communications, Sioux Falls, serving rural Clay and Union counties, $306,199

Mitchell Telecom, Mitchell, serving rural Davison County, $441,470

RC Technologies, New Effington, serving Kranzburg and rural Codington, $361,500

Vast Broadband, Sioux Falls, serving Irene Wakonda & Alsen areas, $128,844.