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.