Older adults in South Dakota want a level playing field with other states when it comes to high-speed internet service, according to a new study.

AARP surveyed voters ages 50 and older to find how often they use the internet and how important they think it is to expand high-speed internet across South Dakota. The results, according to AARP state director Erik Gaikowski, show that 80 percent to 90 percent of the 50-plus population reported using the internet very frequently, both in urban and rural areas of the state.

“And we know that the farmers and ranchers in rural South Dakota really need to be able to compete internationally,” he said. “They need a high-speed internet access for their businesses, but also for access to telemedicine — that’s a huge component of being able to live in rural areas.”

The survey shows support from a majority of residents who want lawmakers to “do what’s necessary” to expand high-speed internet service state-wide. Improved broadband technology is faster and more reliable than the older, dial-up service. In addition to providing access for telemedicine services, it offers more learning opportunities and can reduce the risk of social isolation.

Gaikowski said faster internet service can also help local businesses grow by connecting them to customers outside their local area.

“The 50-plus population is the highest-growing segment of entrepreneurs, and we know that entrepreneurs need high-speed internet,” he said. “So, this is just another way of supporting the people that choose to live in rural areas.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that South Dakota would receive nearly $10 million of the money authorized by Congress to expand broadband infrastructure in rural America. About 1,700 rural households in the Flandreau area, including 27 farms and 17 businesses, will benefit from improved services.

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