RAPID CITY, SD – Providing broadband access to smaller farming and ranching communities was a top priority for South Dakota Senator John Thune.
Before Thune became the number two Republican in the Senate, he was chairman of the trade committee that oversees much of the country’s infrastructure.
Thune says there is general acceptance that internet access is no longer a luxury.
“I think that hard infrastructure fits into every definition of core infrastructure, broadband fits,” said Thune. “And I think determining that speed is still a point of contention, but I think everyone recognizes that these networks are an integral part of doing business and normal American life. And they make big investments. I’ve been complaining about the stretch of Highway 385 between Deadwood and Hill City for a decade because it’s a cell and data-free zone. And there are a couple of big projects that will fix that. “
“But in fact there are some places in South Dakota where you don’t have access to all that stuff. But I think the expansion, the investments that are being made by these telecommunications companies here in South Dakota are pretty historic. And I think it will be transformative. “
When asked whether the Infrastructure Act will help telecommunications companies fill the loopholes, despite voting against the law, he replied:
“There will be. There will be a lot more money in the pipeline, but there was already a lot of money in the pipeline. I have worked on some proposals, laws, and mechanisms to bring more money to rural areas when I chaired the Senate Commerce Committee And we’ve had a lot of success with it, to the point where a lot of the rural telecommunications companies here in South Dakota told you they had money, they needed manpower to fill the jobs and get the projects done. This so will add more.
But my concern is the way they do it, the way the funds are distributed. If they don’t get it right, they over-build, they go to areas that already have services, they don’t get the really underserved areas, and there is a recipe for a lot of fraud and abuse. “
The Senate has passed a bipartisan trillion dollar infrastructure bill, with House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi setting a September 27 deadline for the vote.
Pelosi’s previous goal had been to get President Biden’s Build Back Better plan passed at the same time as the bipartisan bill, but threats from centrists thwarted the plan.