(USDA Photo by Lance Cheung)
A Sioux Falls nonprofit is one of five recipients nationally of a new grant to connect people to the internet.
Roughly one in six South Dakotans don’t have access to high-speed internet, according to state data from 2021. In Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, roughly 15% of households lack internet access at home or on a mobile device, based on a 2020 survey.
Gov. Kristi Noem vowed to get reliable internet infrastructure to every South Dakotan after pushing for the ConnectSD broadband grant program in 2019, connecting over 27,500 residents to high speed internet in the last four years.
Sioux Falls established the Inclusive Digital Equity Alliance in 2021 to study the issue of digital equity in places where internet broadband is already established, focusing on affordable broadband and digital literacy skills.
Yet thousands of South Dakotans are still without adequate internet access, said Taneeza Islam, executive director of South Dakota Voices for Peace.
Access to the internet is imperative for business growth, remote work, access to health care, and virtual education — all of which came to a head during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, desktop or laptop computers are needed to fill out forms and apply for jobs. Many low income Sioux Falls residents only have a cell phone for internet use, Islam added, referencing a digital equity task force study.
“There is a large gap between those who do have access and those who do not,” Islam said in a news release. “… We hope providing direct assistance for enrollment will ease the process for community members.”
South Dakota Voices for Peace is one of five organizations to receive a pilot grant from Civic Nation, a national nonprofit, to enroll low income, multilingual Sioux Falls and Flandreau residents in a federal internet discount program and further the digital equity mission. The nonprofit will help Civic Nation learn best practices to encourage better national enrollment in the program, Islam said.
“The first step is knowing the program exists,” Islam said. “Because it is a cumbersome process, being able to help someone one-on-one apply has a higher success of enrollment.”
Eligible households for the Affordable Connectivity Program receive a discount of up to $30 a month toward internet services and a one-time $100 discount to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet. Households on tribal lands can receive up to $75 off internet services a month.
The program started in 2021 and is funded for five years. Eligible households must get re-certified on a yearly basis.
South Dakota Voices for Peace plans to enroll 100 multilingual South Dakotans, in part by translating application information into Spanish, Amharic and Nepali. They’ll also hold office hours at Sioux Falls locations and be available over the phone to help residents apply for the program.
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