Monday was a great day. Under the presidential gaze of nearby Mount Rushmore, I had the honor of participating in the groundbreaking for Project Connect South Dakota – a $25.7 million infrastructure project that will bring fiber optic broadband service to more than 300 community anchor institutions across the state. Based on the enthusiasm of the crowd of state officials, representatives from the partner companies, and journalists, I couldn’t help but feel gratified about how our efforts are coming together and are making a real change in peoples’ lives.
The ceremony (called a celebration by its organizers) was held at the Rapid City Regional Hospital and was keynoted by Governor Rounds, who applauded the Recovery Act award as “deliver[ing] the world” to South Dakotans. As we posed for the requisite shovel-wielding photo op, I joked that the brand new directional boring machine that would soon begin laying fiber beneath the parking lot would be more fun to operate than the shovels in our hands. (Hey, I got a few courtesy laughs.)
The project will be implemented by SDN Communications – a consortium of 17 separate local and regional South Dakota phone companies that will contribute $5 million in matching funds. All of the local companies had representatives who couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the opportunity to extend broadband services throughout their cities and towns. After the groundbreaking, I conducted a site visit to learn more about how the project is operating and to meet people who are charged with making it a success. As part of my visit, a couple of SDN’s network engineers gave me a tour of the Rapid City fiber route and showed me many of the anchor institutions that will get connected.
What struck me during the ceremony and the site visit was the reality of what we are doing. When we reviewed the grant applications, we carefully examined the lists of the number and type of anchor institutions to be connected. But on Monday, when I actually saw the Rapid City Indian Hospital, West Middle School, and the South Dakota Job Services building, it was an altogether different experience. Speaking with the people whose everyday lives will improve as a result of Project Connect South Dakota filled me with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment.
Max Fainberg is a telecommunications program specialist on the BTOP team.