Home Internet OPINION: High-speed internet keeps South Dakotans connected – Mitchell Republic

OPINION: High-speed internet keeps South Dakotans connected – Mitchell Republic

South Dakota has a historic opportunity to expand access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet to everyone in the state, no matter where they live or their circumstances.

Access, however, depends on more than wires, poles and other pieces of infrastructure. It also depends on making sure that internet service is affordable, and that all South Dakotans have the tools and the skills to use it.

That is why we’re proud to see that South Dakota is one of the first states in the country to have its

digital opportunity plan

approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The approval is the first step in unlocking

federal funding

that can help underserved communities – including older South Dakotans, veterans, low-income families, tribal communities, people living in rural areas and others – to connect to the internet.

In developing the plan after intense collaboration with stakeholders, partner organizations and public participation, the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Department of Labor and Regulation discovered that while the state has made significant strides to close digital gaps, we continue to face numerous challenges, especially in rural areas. They heard the cost of high-speed internet as the most frequently mentioned barrier to universal access, and they found South Dakotans need better access to digital skill development and devices.

AARP South Dakota, on behalf of our more than 100,000 members in the state, applauds the approval of our state’s plan to expand high-speed internet. High-speed internet is not a luxury. It is a necessity for older South Dakotans. In short, it will improve the quality of life and help adults 50-plus safely age in place.

This plan is South Dakota’s blueprint to tear down the digital divide in our state. There are several key strategies that have been identified to reduce barriers to internet access. Through implementation, South Dakota will pursue efforts to improve overall broadband access, affordability, digital skills and access to devices, as well as sustain these efforts over time. This is no small task.

While putting this comprehensive plan together is a commendable start, there is still much work ahead of us. AARP South Dakota looks forward to working with Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Department of Labor and Regulation, and other key stakeholders toward successful implementation of this plan. Like other traditionally underserved groups, too many older adults have been left behind for too long.

We must also maintain our focus on ensuring that internet is affordable. As South Dakota’s plan demonstrates, wires alone can’t solve the problem of connectivity, which is why AARP remains committed to the continuation of the federal

Affordable Connectivity Program

, which provides direct support to South Dakotans to help them afford internet service.

Without access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet – and the digital skills needed to use it – too many older South Dakotans are not able to fully participate in today’s economy. They risk missing out on opportunities like online learning, finding and maintaining employment, accessing important services and keeping social connections crucial to their well-being. They can’t shop online for essentials like groceries and may not be able to virtually see their doctors or health care specialists, who may be located miles away.

Eligible households can receive a benefit that provides a $30-$75 per month discount on the cost of high-speed internet. For many families, that can cover the entire cost of their service. There are over 21,000 South Dakota households on the Affordable Connectivity Program and more than 42% of these are headed by a resident 50 or older. 

Right now, the

program is at risk of running out of money in May

. As South Dakota – working in collaboration with regional and local partners – works to close the digital divide, it’s our hope that Congress will maintain this critical program. Older adults in South Dakota are counting on action.


 

Reference

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