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Like Electricity, Broadband Essential But Won’t Reverse Rural Decline

In her State of the State Address Tuesday, after vowing absolutely not to raise taxes, Governor Kristi Noem led off her list of things she wants to do with a call to expand rural broadband. She sees broadband as a basic 21st-century utility reliable access to which all people are entitled. But she also asserts that better broadband will bring back

By pairing quality of life, education targeted at in-demand fields, and fast, reliable broadband, I believe our geographic location can actually be an advantage. There’s no reason why rural South Dakota can’t compete and win by attracting new workers seeking a change. Let’s welcome our sons and daughters, who are tired of the crowds and commutes, back to their hometowns to raise families while pursuing their careers. And in the process we will strengthen our smaller communities and our state [Gov. Kristi Noem, State of the State Address, Pierre, SD, 2019.01.08].

Pairing three things is a pretty tough trick. Even tougher is luring people back to rural South Dakota by offering them basic utilities that they already have in the apparently more opportunity-filled urban places to which they’ve fled.

Back in November, Noem was apparently too busy making her list of state jobs for family to notice our discussion of Dr. Joseph Bottum’s claim that even the Internet won’t save Hoven, Blunt, Highmore, and other remote rural outposts. Workers and families are still going to seek a critical mass of economic and cultural opportunities that can be found only in towns the size of Sioux Falls or bigger, the urban areas that Kristi Noem either ignored or mocked from beneath her ratty Carhartt baseball cap (no, she didn’t wear it at the House podium, but thematically, it was there; it’s always there).

Great Democratic liberalism made rural electrification possible. South Dakotans needed those last miles of copper wire to enjoy the basic American standard of living as much as they need those last miles of fiber optic cable today to share access to services and information that every American should expect. But how many Minneapolites said, “What?! We can plug in our hair dryers in Hayti? Let’s move!”? Since the 1930s, we’ve wired up pretty much every house in South Dakota (with the notable exception of Pine Ridge and other tribal communities… hmm… maybe we should say electricity for everybody before we get too excited about last-mile fiber?), but rural communities are still declining.

Electricity and broadband are basic utilities that every South Dakotan should have. But Sioux Falls and more urban climes will still offer more of the quality of life that drives robust economic development.


  1. TAG 2019-01-11 08:02

    Wait, it seems like I’ve heard this before….”internet should be treated as a basic utility, that the public should have equal access to, …”.

    Oh yeah. It was Obama’s argument for net neutrality.

  2. mike from iowa 2019-01-11 08:20

    20 years ago (more or less) iowa paid to have fiber optic cable buried to every middlesex village and town to get iowa out of the middle ages. They buried cable across the road about two tenths of a mile down my lane from where I live. I hadn’t noticed that cable getting any closer over the years. Just saying.

  3. jerry 2019-01-11 08:50

    Broadband is spendy, costs about $1,200.00 bucks a year for our rural services optic cable. That ain’t cheap. We are lucky enough to be able to afford the service, but many others have the broadband available but cannot afford it in rural areas.

    Dish networks are available as well, not cheap either and slow. If the state wants us all to have high speed broadband, then the state should provide a subsidy for their plan. No matter how you look at it, broadband is too expensive for hard scrabble poor folks in rural South Dakota unless the state steps in to help with the majority of the costs. Another shiny thing that is too expensive for the majority of South Dakotan’s.

    China has already 5G up and running with 6G in the hopper for wireless internet services. Towers are all that is needed to make it all work, we are still focusing on 4G.

  4. Terry Woster 2019-01-11 10:07

    What we need is a task force to study … Oh, wait.

  5. happy camper 2019-01-11 10:21

    It really depends on how large of a city will be most attractive to various people. South Dakota only has Sioux Falls which is still not a city really but our only choice more populous states have many. Yes, probably the smallest towns will go unless they are close to a larger area they were a product of horse and wagon (a trip you could make in one day) but if everyone wanted to live in a metro area we’d all be moving to Minneapolis no thank you. Our bigger towns Watertown, Brookings, etc will stay desirable and the small towns near them. Always worth remembering Madison’s biggest mistake: Would you like the interstate to come through town? Heck no!!! Will Madison ever get a 4 laner? Not if we remember a conversation from the first annual blogfest (were there more?) the numbers are not there to justify Aberdeen’s connection was pure political and not likely to repeat.

  6. Rorschach 2019-01-11 10:24

    LOL. I like it Terry.

    Noem is saying the same thing that the last 2 governors (at least) have said. It’s wishful thinking that the people we are exporting will move back in their productive years. Rep. Noem could have truncated her sentence to, “South Dakota can’t compete[.]” Lower wages, fewer opportunities, and closed minds are not what people are looking for when they decide where to live. The kind of people looking for those things tend to stay put where they are at – which is why SD has not emptied out completely yet.

  7. Rorschach 2019-01-11 10:35

    You know what would actually have brought South Dakota’s sons and daughters back to South Dakota? Electing Billie Sutton instead of recycling the same tired, failed ideas.

  8. MJK 2019-01-11 11:14

    Exactly right Rorschach. Had we gotten Billie; we could have kept more young people. We still have brain-drain in the state and we are an aging state. The plus here is no state income tax; but the opportunities are not here either. Not because young people don’t have vision. They do. But you have to have young progressives foot traffic throughout to make anything work in business. Do we have the numbers here? Are more babies being born? According to what I have read, no. Young people have college/grad debt. They are postponing marriage and families. They move primarily for the economics. So, in SD I don’t think matters so much to have fiber optics in the far reaching areas UNLESS there is real change in demographics.

  9. happy camper 2019-01-11 11:37

    “They move primarily for the economics.” Hmmm – I think it’s a huge mix of personal motives. I just got back from a 6,000 trip Nashville, Florida, Mobile, Shreveport, Albuquerque, Los Angelos, Vegas, Omaha talking to people all along the way. They’re all prioritizing and making decisions on the next business to run, the city to leave Vegas back to St. Louis, sharing their favorite places they’ve lived and why. It’s really wonderful to explore this country and talk to all sorts of people. Take your bicycle with you!!! They had a Burning Man meeting in Vegas (at a gay bar) interesting people!!! We should be careful using South Dakota as our sole frame of reference people in other places seem so much more open and less reserved. Gotta love the variety didn’t want to come back here too confining, too restrictive. South Dakota is just too conservative imo. Small, cold, boring.

  10. Porter Lansing 2019-01-11 11:48

    I see Happy’s point of view. My main reason for attending Cory’s blog is to answer the question that arises from HC’s observations about SD. WHY? Why do people in SoDak act the way they do? If you don’t travel you don’t see it. People in South Dakota think and act differently from almost everywhere else. WHY?
    I’ve explored the fact that there are more people of German heritage in the Dakotas than anywhere else. And, the Germans are Volga Germans, which is an entirely different sect of the Germanic culture. Many is the state claim it’s a Scandinavian enclave but that’s false. Lots of Norwegians, true, but mostly Germans.
    … to be cont.

  11. bearcreekbat 2019-01-11 12:16

    Porter, for a more ominous, yet sadly accurate, view of the European nature of South Dakotans, check out David Newquist’s recent post. He convincingly argues that we have become a prime example of “Vichy America.”

  12. happy camper 2019-01-11 12:52

    It’s small-minded rigidity where does it comes from? I told the bank teller I had been to Florida she said someone just moved back to South Dakota because “it’s godless down there.” I held my tongue but wanted to say it’s godless everywhere sister. I have often agreed with Porter about Germans and the rigidity. After WWII my older cousin met Germans who had never been out of their village. Some of my older relatives had never been out of South Dakota (or rarely). We’re in a dicey area of culture, race, and ethnicity in this conversation but some areas of the country embrace new South Dakota tends to reject.

  13. Jason 2019-01-11 12:56

    Cory wrote:

    But Sioux Falls and more urban climes will still offer more of the quality of life that drives robust economic development.

    What do they offer that increases quality of life that can’t be had in a small town

  14. RICHARD SCHRIEVER 2019-01-11 13:06

    Cory and Jason – what they offer are “crowds (people you haven’t ever seen before) and commutes – ever changing sights to see – developments – activity – CHANGE. The things that Kristi believes people get tired of and will seek isolation, and stasis for. Giant state-sized assisted living center.

  15. happy camper 2019-01-11 13:25

    There are probably always fear and control issues my cousin told me in St. Louis they were not accepted socially (he was a CEO of a large company) the provincial establishment was 4th generation or longer. South Dakota is just at the much farther end of the extreme. I met a Creole guy who lives in the swamps he has to wear boots to get to his house. There are issues down there too he is French, Spanish, and African American looks white but a grandbaby came out black.

  16. Porter Lansing 2019-01-11 13:43

    “The things that Kristi believes people get tired of and will seek isolation, and stasis for.” Those are the things Castlewood Kristi gets tired of because she rarely left her office in Washington (one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world). She slept there and showered in the workout gym in the basement. Then flew home on weekends.
    What people crave are what Mr. Schriever listed … “crowds (people you haven’t ever seen before) and commutes – ever changing sights to see – developments – activity – CHANGE.
    ~ Sometimes it seems that those best and brightest who’ve gone away took all the curiosity with them. Maybe that’s why they left? Because they were curious. Many of the “left-overs” seem to avoid curiosity because it can only lead to change, which is to be avoided at all cost.

  17. Porter Lansing 2019-01-11 14:09

    Thanks, BCB. That’s a good one, huh? Prof. Newquist is my favorite writer, these days. He reminds me of the thinking in much of SD during the Vietnam “conflict”. I thought that thinking left when FoxNews moved in but was so overwhelmingly pleased to discover his writing. No one else tells South Dakotans who they really are like Newq. Like this one … “Politics as a means of change and the rule of honesty and decency has been disabled in South Dakota.” Sad state of affairs in Vichy Dakota.

  18. jerry 2019-01-11 14:11

    Hydrogen trains in the UK, when do we South Dakotan’s evolve? German’s in Germany already have trains running on hydrogen. South Dakota Germans only have their mouths moving, with the shut off switches disengaged. All talk and no action.

    “For the first time ever, hydrogen-fueled trains will soon be running on UK railways.

    The train, code named “Breeze”, will convert existing Class 321 trains, which will re-engineer some of the UK’s most reliable rolling stock and create a clean train for the modern age.

    These trains could run across the UK as early as 2022, emitting only water and zero harmful emissions.

    The conversion will be carried out by French transit company Alstom in partnership with Eversholt Rail. The two companies have confirmed that their initial, comprehensive engineering study is now complete, and the train design concept finalized. The innovative technical solution defined is the first to allow a hydrogen train to fit within the standard UK loading gauge, and it will also create more space for passengers than the trains they are intended to replace.”

    The world is passing us by here. In Colorado,'s they will save 2.5 Billion dollars by shutting down the coal, new governor says 100% before 2040.

  19. happy camper 2019-01-11 14:23

    Yeah, curiosity is a wonderful thing. Now this young Burning Man guy from Chattanooga (about 30) married a black woman and his mother won’t talk to him any longer. His mother won’t talk to him! The Creole in his 70s married a white woman she was the one upset by the black baby obviously he knew his heritage and is proud of it. When in the military his commanding officer sent him to English as a Second Language class he was not happy I found him quite charming. I think what I’m saying is we see our backward ways the most intimately so they disturb us the most but other parts of the country, and I don’t mean equally, also have their fair share of ignorances. We’re bound to hate those things closest to us, that we experienced and carry with us. Years ago my uncle used to tell me get out of South Dakota there is no creativity here things are better now but I will probably leave as my responsibilities come to a close.

  20. bearcreekbat 2019-01-11 17:22

    Porter – I share your opinion of Newquist’s writings. The Vichy America piece, along with many other of his essays, ought to be a mandatory reading as part of our newly required citizenship curriculum for the high school diploma.

  21. Porter Lansing 2019-01-11 17:45

    BCB – Agreed. Not that High Schoolers need to pass a citizenship test but that his essays would be worthy. Hopefully, whatever teachers are teaching these young kids that communism and socialism are the same thing, won’t be involved in citizenship indoctrination. What if a parent doesn’t want their child to be forced to listen to a right wing interpretation of citizenship? Can they opt their kids out? And, oh yeah … I misspoke. I mean that Prof. Newquist and YOU are my favorite writers. 😁

  22. Porter Lansing 2019-01-11 17:46

    Happy … You’re a wise fellow.

  23. Debbo 2019-01-11 19:48

    FYI: “Minneapolitans.” Not “ites.”

  24. Debbo 2019-01-11 20:32

    Dr. Newquist’s post is outstanding. Thanks for the link BCB.

    What’s wrong with South Dakotans isn’t limited to SD. Theres a man I know here in Northfield, nice, friendly, recently came into a lot of $ so he’s been traveling with his wife and granddaughter. (He’s about 60 yo.) Just got back from a Caribbean cruise, said he rarely debarked at ports. “Why should I go to Jamaica? There’s nothing for me there and we’ve got the best food right around the corner from our suite.” No curiosity, no wonder, no risking. He doesn’t care for our “Vichy” government, but his head is planted firmly in the sand. He’s comfortable and that’s all he needs to know.

  25. Debbo 2019-01-11 21:00

    The discussion of nationalities is interesting. Wisconsin is mainly German and elected Snot Wanker 2.5 times. German (40.5%), Irish (10.8%), Polish (8.8%), Norwegian (7.7%), and English (5.7%)

    In fact, Minnesota is more German than Norske in heritage, but we’re a much different state. German (33.8%), Norwegian (15.3%), Irish (10.5%), Swedish (8.1%), and English (5.4%)

    Minnesota usually leads the nation in voter turnout and we’re blue, so we would be firmly in the resistance category. We have 8 Congress people, 5 Democrats, 2 of whom are women. Both senators are Democratic women and the Speaker of the State House is a Democratic woman. Yet Sec. Clinton barely won this state.

    Wikipedia says North Dakota is mostly German, then Norwegian. Wyoming doesn’t really have a dominant ethnicity like some other states. German (26.0%), English (16.0%), Irish (13.3%), Norwegian (4.3%), and Swedish (3.5%). SD, on the other hand, is 40% German.

    It might be interesting for us commenters to share our own ethnicities, see if we fit the categories suggested.

    My mother was full English, father was half English, half German. Makes me 3/4 English I guess, 1/4 German. Smatterings of others in there I’m sure.

  26. Porter Lansing 2019-01-11 21:25

    With all respect to South Dakota, there are Germans and then there are Volga Germans (a particularly contrary and stubborn lot). My maternal Grandmother was full Minnesota German. Her husband was a new American from Sweden who fought for USA in WWI. My paternal Grandmother and Grandfather were full English (common in Central Florida). Makes me half German German, a quarter English and a quarter Swede, I think. I married a full blooded German German and our daughter is 3/4 German and some English and Swede.
    Anyway SD is Volga Russian Germans and it shows. Heh heh HO

  27. Bob Klein 2019-01-11 21:34

    I am convinced that if Noem supports anything, it is because it improves the lot of her funders, not of all South Dakotans. I don’t believe she would spend a dime of government money unless she sees that benefit. Benefits hunting, then it’s for the lodges, not for the cousins. Faster broadband, for the companies who are going to earn government subsidies.

  28. Debbo 2019-01-11 22:06

    Porter, I read the wikipedia entry you referenced. Very interesting and it brought back a memory to me. I think it was the Huron Daily Plainsman that regularly ran a page of meetings. One that always showed up was “Germans from Russia.” That was in the 60s-70s. Hmmmm. I suppose it was the descendants you alluded to.

    Per Wikipedia, which is never wrong, the Volga Germans settled in the Plains states and west, not the Midwest. Interesting.

    So you’re German, English and Swede? 🤔🤔🤔
    My quarter German is likely to be the Volga Germans. Mom used to speak of High Germans and Low Germans. Would that be equivalent to your Volga Germans and German Germans?

  29. Rorschach 2019-01-11 22:20

    Since we’re talking genealogy, I would be about 5/8 English/Scotch/Irish, 1/4 German, 1/8 Albanian, and about as much Native American as Elizabeth Warren.

  30. Porter Lansing 2019-01-11 22:55

    Debbo … I’ve always been told that the Russian Germans came to SD because of free land. Many of them were Mennonites (who my family always called the Russian Colonies). I believe the German immigrants that were kicked out of Russia after the revolution (They’d been in Russia for several generations and had nearly totally assimilated into Russian culture by then.) came to the Dakotas and the Germans from Germany came to Minnesota and the Midwest.
    High and low German are dialects. I took four years of German in high school and if I recall, we were studying High German dialect.
    For a prime example of the demeanor and culture of Volga German heritage folks in SD just read the people who post on Power’s blog (generally intolerant, selfish and without compassion for others). They’re thick over there and in Pierre, also. There are a few contrary and overly stubborn folks on Cory’s blog but just a few. Usually they come here to disrupt not to join in and comment positively.

  31. Debbo 2019-01-12 00:00

    Interesting Porter. Thanks for the link. I don’t remember which one my dad’s German ancestors spoke.

  32. mike from iowa 2019-01-12 06:17

    Since we’re talking genealogy, Barbara Eden is 90 years old.
    Sorry Ror.

  33. Jason 2019-01-12 10:50

    “crowds” do not increase your quality of life.

    Traffic jams take valuable time away from you and your family that you can never get back.

  34. Porter Lansing 2019-01-12 11:38

    Crowds certainly increase my quality of life, little shallow man. The more fans at a Rockies game cheering against the Dodgers, the happier I am. (30 days 11 hours 22 minutes and 17 seconds until pitchers and catchers report to Spring training in Scottsdale)

  35. Debbo 2019-01-12 11:51

    Jason must be 100% German from Russia.

  36. Porter Lansing 2019-01-12 12:14

    Very good, Debbo. Jason isn’t his real name. He goes by many, from Lynn on forward. His real first name is a German derivative of his last name, without the H. Rather redundant on his dad Bill’s part, which may be why Jason’s so tedious.
    Another Volga German descendent who’s 100% intolerant, selfish and without compassion for others is OldSarge. His last name is actually a common German noun for a flying creature.
    PS … grudzie’s 100% Irish. Not that all Irish are drunks, but grudzie does take a nip, often.
    *disclaimer – Heritage is only a generalization and probable indicator of your propensity of personality and doesn’t always hold true.

  37. Debbo 2019-01-12 15:50

    You either know everyone on the continent or are a highly skilled researcher.

  38. Debbo 2019-01-13 13:01

    The Minneapolis Strib has a brief article that touches on this topic.

    “The earnings of workers without a college education have scarcely risen in 50 years, after adjusting for inflation; for men they have fallen.”
    It’s about how necessary college degrees are for good paying jobs now compared to the 1970s. Robots or outsourcing now do the low skilled jobs or the pay is so low the above quote applies.

    “The share of the working-age population with a degree is now 20 percentage points higher in urban places than it is in rural ones. In 1970, that gap was just five percentage points.”
    So there is an education gap, as SD’s Democrats have been pointing out. Better paying jobs go where there is an educated work force and it’s not in the SDGOP’s education starved SD.

    The article, from the Economist, posits that “The resulting hardship has been implicated in a rise in mortality in parts of the United States and a turn toward nationalism that helped put Donald Trump in the White House.”

    In other words, this pain in SD and similar places works for The Occupant and the GOP, which is why they are happy to maintain it. It’s the Democrats who are fighting to improve life for Everyone.

    The entire article is here:

  39. Porter Lansing 2019-01-13 13:33

    @Debbo – I’m pretty good at research (ACT Tested at 98th percentile) and I’m pretty curious about highly outspoken and opinionated people who won’t give their real name. Psychology points out that anonymous people slide into deviant behavior quite quickly. I’ve found that if you listen carefully (I’ve also been tested at 94% total recall) to people posting here, they’ll usually give clues as to who they really are. It’s probably a subconscious need to be recognized and listened to. (*One place (usually ignored) to find out about people’s true identity is obituaries of their family members. The internet has millions of obits and people’s relatives love to tell family stories.) 😁

  40. Debbo 2019-01-13 20:22

    Interesting Porter. I knew you are smart. Can I just call you Total Recall now? 😁🧐

    BTW, I discovered via working in the field of domestic violence that abusive males will generally tell their intended victim what they are before it’s too late. A common statement he makes is, “Maybe you shouldn’t date/marry me.”
    The issue for women is to listen, really hear and believe them. Of course the perp’s problem is not to be a vicious SOB.

    You’re right. People tell much more than they realize, one way or another.

  41. Richard F Schriever 2019-01-13 20:55

    Debbo – I am a mixture of Frisian and Mecklenberger and Westphalian. The various branches of my ancestry fled the newly created nation of Germany in the early 1870s to avoid forced conscription and taxation. Prior to that time there was no “Germany” as a united nation, There were various smaller principalities. My ancestors all spoke “low” German – the dialect found in the low-lands – sometime also referred to as Frisian.

  42. Richard F Schriever 2019-01-13 21:06

    PS, there were a lot of Frisians that settled just south of Sioux Falls. The entire town of Tea, and most of the surrounding farmers spoke to each other more often in Frisian or Low German right into the 1970’s. My dad, who was from Tea, didn’t speak any English until he started school in 1930.

  43. Richard F Schriever 2019-01-13 21:15

    Here is he Wiki ex[planation of the various Frisian Languages – including the East Frisian – a variant of Low German – that my ancestors (from the Oldenburg area) spoke.

  44. Porter Lansing 2019-01-13 21:21

    Pretty funny, Debbo. There are three main types of recall: free recall, cued recall and serial recall. 94% is just slightly above average. The problem is you can’t choose what you recall. What you want to remember always seems to not appear until you aren’t thinking about it.

  45. Debbo 2019-01-13 21:42

    Thanks Richard. I’d only heard the word Fresian used in regard to a breed of horses. Very interesting that the variations are unintelligible to each other.

    Porter, I find that allowing time for percolation is critical.

  46. Porter Lansing 2019-01-13 21:52

    I agree, Debbo. And, research skills are learned. I was an only child and Mom and I lived across the street from the library. From age five I was allowed to go there by myself and spend as much time as I wanted. We didn’t have a TV, the librarians liked me and taught me the Dewey Decimal system. That gave me the ability to know where to look whenever a curious thought entered my brain. I was always interested in the parts of a book that weren’t the meat. The stuff in the front and back of a phone book or an encyclopedia or a dictionary. Those are places that help you score well on the ACT research section.

  47. Debbo 2019-01-15 16:34

    A magazine named City Lab sees more hope for rural US. No paywall.

  48. Shirley Moore 2019-01-15 21:49

    Reynold Nesiba (D-15) plans to bring forward a bill from last year on Internet Neutrality. If you have information you might testify with to aid him, please cintact him.

  49. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-16 05:51

    Shirley reminds us that rural broadband won’t have nearly the same impact if small businesses and individual users in rural America get slower service than big urban companies.

    Debbo’s article includes some vague happy boosterism, but it also includes some practical examples and this check on the standard approach to economic development:

    We live under economic regimes that have decided that success is perpetual economic growth, while simultaneously divesting from the communities where investment is needed the most. What if an overarching economic mission of growth isn’t actually what rural places want or need? Recent research has found there are proportionally more entrepreneurs in rural areas than urban, but that rural entrepreneurs were more likely to see their business as successful when they started it to provide for their family, rather than as a mechanism for accumulating wealth. Rethinking what economic success looks like will be key to the success of our rural communities [Jean Hardy, “How Rural America Is Saving Itself,” City Lab, 2018.12.20].

    I’ll slip on this point as surely as Kristi Noem will, but let’s remember: the point of the economy is not to make more money. The point of the economy is to provide us the opportunity to live how, where, and with whom we want, within bounds of reason, decency, and sustainability.

  50. Jason 2019-01-16 07:53

    Which towns in SD don’t have broadband?

  51. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-17 21:28

    I don’t know, Jason. Ask Governor Noem. Maybe she’ll include that list in her budget next week. She says it’s a problem, so there must be places without.

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