In early December, I had the privilege of announcing a USDA Rural Development ReConnect Pilot Program investment of more than $9.5 million to Valley Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Inc. dba Valley FiberCom in Flandreau, South Dakota. This investment will help Valley deploy high-speed broadband internet e-Connectivity to more than 1,750 rural households, 27 farms, 17 businesses and one critical community facility.
The Valley Telecommunications project has the potential to make a far-reaching, positive impact on rural businesses and communities. It will attract new families and individuals to rural South Dakota, while helping to retain the best and the brightest. It will bring new small businesses to the service area’s rural communities, while helping to grow existing companies and create new jobs. It will improve educational opportunities for local students, bridging the digital divide and helping to level the playing field for all children in surrounding rural school districts. Children will now be able to receive a homework assignment in school and be able to complete that homework assignment at home using digital tools.
It will help expand medical services and support while enhancing health care outcomes through telemedicine. And finally, it will open doors to put even more precision in precision agriculture, allowing farmers in this service area to be more efficient, economical, and environmentally responsible.
Beyond the numbers: The impact of e-Connectivity on rural economic development
Darren Hamilton, owner of River Thru Ag. Services, hosted the event in his facility. Darren’s business sells seed corn, soybeans, and chemicals. He is not satisfied with the existing service with the wait and limited bandwidth, as well as the lack of reliability. Increased speeds will allow him to submit orders more quickly and reply to emails in a timely fashion. His business personifies the precision ag potential that fiber to the farm will bring to rural South Dakota as a result of USDA investment.
Local business woman Jeralynn Andersen shared that access to broadband will give her insurance office in Arlington the opportunity to provide growth and efficiency by connecting with customers and providing information for them in situations when her office is closed. Farmers are working many hours, and Jeralynn’s office receives calls from them on weekends as well as during regular office hours. With the broadband expansion, Jeralynn will have the ability to pull a farmers file from home and provide the information her customers need without waiting until a week day.
Julie Schipper shared that e-Connectivity would be a godsend to her and her family. Julie and her husband Bryan run a livestock hauling business in Moody County that has been in business over 30 years. The improved internet service will be beneficial for tax filing and licensing requirements. Julie is also a Medicare biller for Avera, and she recently received approval to work from her home in Flandreau, but the experience has been difficult with the lack of reliable e-Connectivity.