Special thanks to Andy Ogan and Jan Newman for their project management efforts; Deb Larson for managing the federal reporting and fiscal requirements; Mike Waldner for capacity building; Brandy McBride and Jamie Fry for technology planning; and Chris Marsh, Josh Whitman, Sandra Panicucci and Tim Teaford for address identification and geographic information systems. This was a significant project that delivered real results benefitting many entities across the state.
South Dakota BIT’s Broadband Grant Coming to an End
As everyday tasks and critical business functions further entrench themselves as online and not in line, the ability to stay digitally connected remains paramount for success for citizens, businesses and the public sector. While highly populated areas enjoy a plethora of high-speed, competitively priced connectivity options, large regions of the country unfortunately lagged behind in technical infrastructure and remained unserved or underserved. The issues of this growing digital divide caught the attention of Congress and the White House, and through a series of bills and laws ultimately funded by the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) in 2009, started an effort to track and improve the nation’s broadband capacity and capabilities. The program, known as the State Broadband Initiative (SBI), was administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA). South Dakota’s participation in this effort was funded by an NTIA from late 2009 through January 2015.
With a statewide reach and eyes and ears in every corner of the state, South Dakota BIT was charged with researching and accomplishing SBI’s national goals while maintaining a local perspective. In late 2009, BIT began generating the first statewide broadband availability map. With their partner, BroadMap, BIT worked to gather comprehensive, accurate statewide broadband availability data from South Dakota Internet service providers. This data includes availability to a census-block level of accuracy, technologies in use (fiber-optic, cable modem, wireless, etc.), and speeds available to consumers and businesses. After conflating all data into a single, statewide dataset and map resource, this information was made available to the public via the web (http://broadband.sd.gov) and delivered to the NTIA for inclusion in the first national broadband map (http://www.broadbandmap.gov).
Collecting the details of South Dakota’s broadband availability was a semi-annual requirement of our NTIA grant. But in addition to collecting these details, verifying the accuracy of the data presented its own set of challenges. By surveying public and private offices, businesses and citizens, the state’s first broadband map was further refined to ensure all areas served by broadband were included. As South Dakotans regularly conduct business and everyday transactions away from the traditional desk, the first statewide cellular “drive tests” were conducted to inspect capacity for the state’s road warriors. By driving over 80,000 miles and collecting nearly 2 million performance measurements, BIT could adjust and update both our wireless coverage maps and those of the cellular providers.
In the end, the entire process of broadband mapping data collection, integration, verification, display and submission to NTIA occurred ten times in five years, providing the most complete and accurate view of South Dakota’s broadband environment to local and national policymakers and stakeholders. BIT’s efforts to ensure accuracy were applauded by South Dakota providers, telecommunications associations, state peers, and by the NTIA themselves.
South Dakota’s SBI grant did much more than just fund a creation of maps and broadband databases. Our first statewide broadband coordination office was established through the grant as well. This broadband capacity planner and builder sought to bring awareness of broadband issues and challenges across the government, private industry and the general public. Through in-person outreach meetings, surveys, a statewide broadband advisory team, and social media, our capacity builder ensured that the necessary digital dialogues were held statewide in city halls, fire halls, board rooms, living rooms, school offices, and the offices of the State Capitol.
Also funded by the SBI grant was an effort to improve the accuracy of location-based online datasets and services. These activities focused on improving our statewide “address files”, allowing citizens, businesses, researchers and stakeholders to accurately translate urban and rural street addresses to the latitude/longitude coordinates used in location-based research and service delivery. While South Dakota’s largest cities were previously documented to some extent, rural and suburban used of address data often led to grossly inaccurate results, at times being tens of miles off. This grant-funded activity mapped 48 of South Dakota’s 66 counties to have all of their street addresses tracked to either the rooftop or mailbox level. This data was used to improve the accuracy of our broadband mapping work, but has also brought benefits to tax requirements identification and collection and the next-generation of 911 services designed to bring emergency services where they are needed accurately the first time.
South Dakota has a long and proud history of lending a helping hand when needed. Our fourth program funded by the SBI grant, known as the Technology Planning program, strived to capture everything represented by that spirit and focus it towards technology. Any one of South Dakota’s “community anchor institutions” (CAIs), which included K-12, libraries, healthcare, government offices, public safety, higher education, and community support offices, could register for a no-charge Technology Assessment from our seasoned engineers. Sitting down with the folks doing the day-to-day business of an organization and listening to their vision for improving their practices, our engineers recognized and drew attention to areas where technology could make big improvements in their operations.
By reviewing outdated systems, tailoring the latest national IT trends to their local environments, and translating the often intimidating technical mumbo-jumbo into plain English, our team helped to break down common and uncommon obstacles faced in CAI’s across the state. Leaving the institution with a plan to go forward was paramount to the success of this effort. Each CAI received a thorough written description of systems in place, challenges faced, recommended upgrades, and equipment additions necessary to accomplish the short and long-term goals of the CAI in the technical environment. Additional, deep discounts were negotiated were equipment resellers, allowing reliable, dependable and capable technologies to be affordable for even the smallest location.
The technical roadmaps laid out in the Technology Planning program were used to guide the funds available through BIT’s final grant funded program. BIT administered our own federally funded program, known internally as our Ownership and Adoption program, to provide equipment grants to qualifying CAI’s in support of activities desired and discussed during our onsite technology assessment. CAI’s would apply for specific equipment, prioritize their needs, and describe the specific technical challenges faced by their office. The BIT team competitively reviewed each application and made awards based on technical need, alignment with CAI stated goals, and ability to execute and maintain the technology over time. The enterprise-level equipment awarded was ordered, configured and installed at recipient CAI offices, with follow-ups made as the years progressed to ensure everything was still operational and used as originally intended. This program awarded over $1,000,000 in equipment to 150+ CAI’s across the state, making vast improvements in CAI technical capacities. These included improvements to cybersecurity, expanded wired and wireless networks, and upgraded end-user devices.
While South Dakota has chosen to not continue funding the same services and offerings at a state-level, we remain proud of the many improvements made across South Dakota. Be it the first statewide broadband availability map, the 48 counties with complete address data, the technical improvements made at CAI’s statewide, or the voices heard and repeated regarding the state’s current broadband environment, the South Dakota Broadband Initiative invested the funds, time, sweat, and passion into our state’s digital economy to pay dividends for years to come in ways never imagined.