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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.

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US Rep. Johnson answers questions at Zesto ice cream parlor

U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) hosted one of his 20 “Inside Scoop with Dusty” open forum meetings at Zesto ice cream parlor in Pierre on Tuesday, Aug. 27.

“We want a more low-key, casual, everyone-relaxes meeting, rather than calling it a town hall open forum,” said Matthew Krall, special assistant to Johnson. “And, almost everyone likes ice cream, right?”

The meetings across South Dakota by Johnson are all at ice cream places.

Johnson began the Dusty Scoop meeting by “setting the stage” for the meeting, then took questions from the audience.

“I’ve only been in Washington for about seven months,” Johnson said, noting what he deemed a great turn out. “It’s difficult to make things work there, especially the big things.”

An audience member asked about possible cutting back on Social Security and Medicare.

“We have a danger to the sustainability of the programs,” said Johnson. “Used to be more people were paying in and fewer were taking out; now the math doesn’t work. We need to long-term bend the rules and limits. It is fair to ask me to work three more years to later get more years paid on these programs. I’m not offended in raising the retirement age for someone who is 40 years old, but not for people who are 60 or 70. If you can bend those cost curves, over time you can get some real value.”

Responding to the audience’s concern about the country’s deficit, Johnson said America has lost a lot of tools that it has previously used to fight a recession. America has no excess cash for economic stimulation, having already cut its annual budget’s 30 percent of discretionary spending down to below 20 percent. Getting a new NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement where tariffs are smaller between the United States, Canada and Mexico) would go a long way. “We have to pick several programs to hit, not just one or two,” said Johnson.

In response to concerns over “bullying and racism from the president,” Johnson said, “If you want someone to toe the party line, that’s not the way I do business. I may support the president, but it is not my job to.”

He said that Republican party silence and weak condemning of the president is not condoning the president.

“I know you are upset by the president’s tone. I could spend two hours a day addressing the critical tweet of the day, but I am busting my back on the issues that matter. The rhetoric that some people engage in does not work toward accomplishing anything. When I do respond, I do so in a de-escalating tone. What I do see is my colleagues motivated to a tremendous degree on what public opinion wants.”

Another question was about unequal and even unfair health care costs.

“Medicare for all, as it is, is impossible,” said Johnson. Medicare under-pays what it costs hospitals for care. “Private care and private pay, including insurance, pays the difference,” he said.

In support of America’s medical accomplishments, Johnson reminded the audience that the survival rate of women with cancer is 46 percent higher in America than in Europe.

In order to diminish healthcare costs, “We have to do a better job of case management and wellness; not service-based but outcome-based,” Johnson said. “50 percent of healthcare is spent in the last year of life.”

Rather than focus on the payer — private businesses as employers — of health insurance, America should focus on preventative measures such as smoking and obesity as more of the issue.

Agreeing with the audience that recent shootings are terrible, Johnson said we must determine why white supremacy, anger, and division are on the rise. We must collectively do things to positively impact these, as well as illegal drug usage and overdoses. The behavioral health issue must be addressed.

An audience member told of prices at the local agriculture cooperative going up because of the ripple effect of international tariffs on local communities. They asked why congress doesn’t take back from the president the power to levy tariffs.

“We have an abusive trade arrangement with China. The average tariff charged by China is 100 percent more than what America charges China. China steals property, manipulates its economy, subsidizes its agriculture. China negotiates in bad faith; having reneged on half of 80 points that it had previously agreed on.

“But if we fold our hand we will not only have a bad deal with China, but with future negotiations with other trade partners,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to give leverage to a country that is willing to starve its people. China has a plan for a much larger power base in the world. It is not looking to benefit America.”

Johnson said that America has recently agreed to an extra $2 billion worth of trade with Canada.

“There is potential real value in being part of a bigger trading block,” said Johnson.

An audience member complained about the abuse of food assistance programs, and where some programs are very stringent on healthy foods (WIC — Women, Infants, and Children) while others allow “junk” food (SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called the Food Stamp Program).

Johnson said that TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is cash assistance. In many states, because TANF is so difficult to qualify for, if people are on the TANF program they automatically qualify for other programs, such as SNAP.

“Categorical eligibility is okay, but not for everything,” said Johnson. “I am proud to pay my taxes so kids can eat, but not for such things as soda pop. I want to help people in need, but there is the argument that if a family’s food budget is supplemented through these programs, then the family has money for cigarettes and other things. I don’t know what to do about it. The reality is Americans don’t do a very good job with nutrition; thus poor health, obesity, and other problems affect people and the healthcare industry.”

Earlier in the day, Johnson was in Onida touring Ringneck Energy, and in Pierre speaking at the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs Training Conference.

After his Pierre visit, Johnson was headed to Eagle Butte and Mobridge to continue his “Inside Scoop with Dusty” meetings. These stops will include Rapid City. He will visit Black Hills State University in Spearfish, Friday, Sept. 6.

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SD Highway Safety wins national award for "Jim Reaper" ads

The national Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) meeting in Anaheim, California on Tuesday honored the “Jim Reaper” ad campaign of the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety with a big award.

The ad campaign features the black-robed wraith “Jim Reaper,” as in Grim Reaper, “as a bumbler who tries (but fails) to convince drivers not to be safe on the road,” according to a news release from Tony Mangan, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety in Pierre, which includes the Highway Patrol as well as the highway safety office.

“Since we began using the Jim Reaper in TV promotions and on social media in 2018, we have been surprised at the type of positive response the campaign has received,” said Lee Axdahl, director of the highway safety office, who was in Anaheim Tuesday to receive the award. “This was a different way to get the message across that every day as drivers, we have the opportunity to make the right decisions, to keep ourselves and others alive and to outsmart Jim Reaper.”

Axdahl spoke and moderated a workshop Tuesday at the national GHSA conference which ended Wednesday. Programs in Connecticut, Montana and Washington won similar Peter J. O’Rourke Awards.

The late O’Rourke was a longtime leader in the GHSA and former CHIP trooper.

The idea of a not-so-grim Jim Reaper was a collaboration between Axdahl and his office and the Sioux Falls ad firm of Lawrence and Schiller, which does a lot of work for the state.

The Jim Reaper idea came from “a team effort” of brainstorming by Axdahl and his office and the Lawrence & Schiller staff, Mangan told the Capital Journal.

“We really have tried very hard, as Lee said at the conference, to reach out to those people who normally don’t listen (to public safety announcements.) We try to grab their attention in whatever way is possible,” Mangan said. “This Jim Reaper campaign uses humor to get an important message across: Cheat death. Beat it.”

The first ad ran on Super Bowl Sunday last year, Feb. 4, 2018, in one of the “regional buys,” shown only on the local affiliates of NBC network that broadcast the game, played in Minneapolis. Not the worldwide ads that cost $5 million for 30 seconds.

In the South-Dakota-made ads, Jim Reaper dresses ghoulishly and carries a scythe while urging young drivers or riders to be unsafe: not wear seat belts or motorcycle helmets. But he’s foiled by the young people who do the right thing.

Jim Reaper has shown up at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally as part of the campaign.

The ad campaign has taken off and been copied by other states and honored at other national conferences, Axdahl said.

The GHSA conference described it as “a memorable, unified message that will stay relevant and change behavior.”

“Jim Reaper is the face of death, a threat that’s always watching and waiting for you to make a mistake,” the GHSA award blurb said. “The campaign inserts a Grim Reaper character into the lives of everyday people as a reminder that, by making smart decisions like wearing a seat belt, calling a cab or opting to wear a helmet, people can beat death, not just cheat it.”

“We may all have been tempted to cut a corner or two as a driver sometime in our lives,” Axdahl said at the conference. “But this campaign is designed to make you stop and think. It only takes one bad decision that results in a permanent loss of a loved one or serious injury to you or others.”

The numbers appear to back up Axdahl’s claim that the ad campaign has had “positive results.”

During the last five years, the state has seen a 20 percent decrease in traffic deaths, including a 3 percent decrease in 2018 over 2017.

“We are again trending below last year,” Mangan said of 2019 numbers so far.

As of Tuesday, Aug. 27, 50 people had died in traffic crashes in the state, compared with 87 by the same date in 2018, Mangan told the Capital Journal.

The decrease of 42.5 percent is significant.

But as in all statistics when the actual numbers are relatively low, the percentages can change fast.

In 2018, the fatality figures ran about 30 percent below the previous year for most of the year, but heightened numbers in the last three months of the year meant the annual total was 3 percent below 2017.

Motorcycle fatalities so far this year were at nine as of Aug. 27, compared with 15 by now in 2018.

There have been no deaths from ATV/UTV crashes so far this year, compared with four last year by Aug. 27.

Pedestrian deaths by traffic crash were at four, compared with six a year ago.

For years, the DPS has stressed that drunk driving and not wearing seat belts are major causes of traffic deaths in ad campaigns. Every month, the Highway Patrol runs the sobriety checkpoints at a dozen more more sites across the state.

“The Jim Reaper campaign is one of many tools that we have used in the Department of Public Safety,” Mangan told the Capital Journal. “The Highway Patrol is very aggressive in their safety methods and efforts. It’s really a combined department-wide effort to keep people safe out on the road.”

The 2019 national award for the Jim Reaper ads is a change from the reception given the 2014 “Don’t Jerk and Drive,” ad campaign from a similar contract between Axdahl’s office and Lawrence & Schiller.

The double entendre intended in the ad was aimed at young men, telling them to keep their hands on the wheel and make no sudden movements, Axdahl said at the time.

The ad won some praise from advertising types and attention across the land.

But it raised enough controversy and complaints from lawmakers that Trevor Jones, then secretary of the Department of Public Safety, pulled the $100,000 ad, saying “I don’t want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road.”

Public safety officials at the time defended the idea of using a risque idea to cut through the clutter and get the attention of young people who account for a large slice of traffic crashes.

Outdoor Pool capital campaign open house scheduled

The man in charge of raising funds for Pierre’s new outdoor pool has his team together, and he wants you to meet them.

Ron Woodburn, Committee Chair, and the rest of Pierre Pool Campaign Committee are hosting an open house at Pierre’s current outdoor pool on Thursday, Sept. 5 from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend the open house to see the footprint of the new pool design, learn more about the campaign, meet the campaign committee members, and enjoy a root beer float.

Committee members include Kim Brakke, Day Breitag, Becky Burke, Mindy Cheap, Bob Gill, Dr. Tom Huber, Scott Huckins, Paula Huizenga, Claire Peschong, Dennis Rounds, Dr. Todd Tedrow and Paula Weeldreyer.

“This is a chance for the public to see our vision for transforming the current space into a 21st century pool our community can be proud of,” said Woodburn. “This is very exciting for Pierre!”

In March, the Pierre City Commission approved a plan to replace Pierre’s 90-plus-year-old outdoor pool. The replacement plan, developed by a volunteer citizen committee, includes a $6.5-million base model paid for by the City and a fundraising initiative to pay for additional features like water slides, a lazy river, and expansion of the 25-meter multipurpose pool. Final pool design is dependent on sponsorships and funds raised.

For more information about the project, visit pierrepool.com.

911 Coordination Board and CenturyLink amend Next Generation 911 contract

During its Aug. 22 meeting, the South Dakota 911 Coordination Board unanimously voted to amend a contract for the South Dakota Next Generation 911 Project.

This amendment is in regards to the Rapid City call center with its multiple workstations, dual electrical circuits, cabling and the need to replace or buy more uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units.


A 911 call center for police, firefighting and ambulance services is referred to as a public safety answering point (PSAP). These call centers run 24 hours a day, dispatching emergency services or passing 911 calls on to public or private safety agencies.

The 911 emergency system must be continually updated to keep up with modern technology. Because most 911 systems were originally built using analog rather than digital technologies, call centers across the country need to be upgraded to a digital or Internet-Protocol-based 911 system, which is commonly referred to as Next Generation 911 (NG911).

An Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS) — essentially a battery backup — is an electrical unit that produces emergency power when the building power fails. A UPS is different from auxiliary power or an emergency generator because it offers almost instantaneous protection from power interruptions. The battery run-time of most UPS units is relatively short — often only a few minutes — but gives enough time to start a standby power source or properly shut down a system’s protected programs and equipment.

The 911’s Internet connecting system, a physical point of presence (POP), is operated by the Internet provider themselves. An Internet connecting system that is not operated by the provider is a virtual point of presence (VPOP).

Contract amendment proposal

CenturyLink proposed using the software-defined networks’ existing virtual point of presence instead of building the new call center and its multiple workstations in Rapid City.

Software-defined networking is a system that helps service providers to respond quickly to changing business requirements.

This option would provide back-up repetition and also carrier diversity at no cost to South Dakota. But, the building of the Rapid City call center by CenturyLink would provide only back-up redundancy.

The estimated costs would include dual electrical circuits, upgrading cabling to all call centers and replacing/buying more UPS units for 26 PSAPs (26 back-room UPS and 99 workstation UPS), which would double the number of current UPS units. It was noted that four call centers have emergency battery power in their buildings and therefore do not need individual UPS.

CenturyLink will only charge the state for the quantity noted above. CenturyLink will supply the other half of the units at its own expense.

Two cost proposals were given to help with the grant funding, depending on what costs are approved: A one-time charge of $555,748.44 has been provided for cabling and electrical wiring or a monthly recurring charge of $12,967.45 for the term of the five-year contract. For grant purposes, it has been requested that the electrical contract work be separated from cabling costs. The cost for UPS would be a one-time charge of $51,716.02 or a monthly recurring charge of $1,120.51 for the contract term.