$17 million in federal funding headed to Cheyenne River telecom for rural broadband

Award is largest in SD since program began

By: - October 27, 2022 9:49 am
(USDA Photo by Lance Cheung)

(USDA Photo by Lance Cheung)

Hundreds of people on the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock reservations will soon have high-speed internet access thanks to a $17 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The grant award to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Telephone Authority represents the largest amount offered anywhere in South Dakota through the USDA’s ReConnect Program

The award is meant to connect 488 people, 88 farms and seven businesses to high-speed internet in Corson and Dewey counties.

In a news release from USDA Rural Development in South Dakota, telecom General Manager Mona Thompson said she expects the new service to be a boon for Cheyenne River communities.

“There are so many possibilities for residents with this new service,” said Thompson. “Farmers and ranchers will be able to use precision agriculture technologies, employees can reliably telework, and students will be able attend K-12 or higher-learning education classes right from their homes.”

Cheyenne River’s rural customers have had to rely on satellite or mobile connections for their internet service, which has been spotty and unreliable during severe weather events. With the new service, customers can expect to see at least double the speeds, the news release said.

The South Dakota grant award was one of dozens announced for rural and underserved areas across the U.S. during a press call on Wednesday with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Presidential Adviser Mitch Landrieu. In total, $759 million in grants were announced this week in the third round of awards for 2022.

“We’ve pushed over $180 billion out of the door,” Landrieu said. 

The money comes from President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which set aside $65 billion to expand high-speed internet across the nation. Previous funds had been awarded by the Trump Administration through a pilot project in 2019, and through a federal COVID-19 relief package in 2020.

The Cheyenne River award is the first ReConnect grant for South Dakota since 2020, and the first to focus on reservation areas in the state. 

The focus on Native communities in the latest round of ReConnect grants is a recognition of the needs of those communities, said Nikki Gronli, the USDA’s director of rural development for South Dakota.

During the pandemic, she said, “it was often in our tribal areas where students were sitting in their cars outside their high schools trying to access high-speed internet.”

Applications for a fourth round of ReConnect funding are open until Nov. 2. A fifth round of ReConnect grants will come in 2023, Vilsack said during Wednesday’s press call.

“This will increase prosperity and make sure that rural America remains a place of opportunity to live, work and raise families,” Vilsack said.

Previous ReConnect grantees serving South Dakota

  • $7.2 million to Premier Communications in 2019 to connect 868 households, 17 businesses and 27 farms in southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa;
  • $9.5 million to Valley Telecommunications Cooperative in 2019 to connect 1,750 rural households, 27 farms, 17 businesses and one critical community facility in Brookings, Kingsbury and Moody counties;
  • $3.3 million to SDN Communications in 2020 to connect 275 people, 14 businesses and two farms in Pennington and Lawrence counties;
  • $1.7 million to Golden West Telecommunications Company in 2020 to connect 218 people, five businesses, 65 farms and one essential community facility in Fall River and Custer counties in South Dakota and Niobrara and Weston counties in Wyoming;
  • $5.5 million to Valley Telecommunications Cooperative in 2020 to connect 1,561 people, 30 businesses, 185 farms, three essential community facilities and six educational facilities in Beadle, Brookings, Clark, Kingsbury and Moody counties;
  • $1.5 million to Alliance Communications in 2020 to connect 1,176 people, 19 businesses and 30 farms in Lincoln and Turner counties; and
  • $6 million to SDN Communications in 2020 to connect 1,112 people, 16 businesses and three farms in Pennington and Lawrence counties.

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.