Federal Funding Fuels Nevada's Broadband Initiative

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Digital Beat

Federal Funding Fuels Nevada's Broadband Initiative

Extending broadband's reach to all Nevadans is a huge challenge. Nevada is the 7th-largest state in the U.S., but ranks just 32 in population, making it one of the least densely populated states in the country. Nearly three-quarters of Nevada's people live in Clark County which is home to the state's four largest cities, including Las Vegas. But, in 2000, over half of Nevada’s counties had fewer than 2 people per square mile. The vast majority of the land in Nevada (about 86%) is managed by various parts of the federal government. The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management alone manages 63% of Nevada.

State Broadband Action Plan

In 2014, Connect Nevada and the Nevada Broadband Task Force compiled a report to summarize Nevada’s broadband access, adoption, and use, as well as the best next steps for addressing any deficiencies or opportunities for improving the statewide technology ecosystem. Three years earlier, Governor Brian Sandoval (R-NV) had declared:

"We must continue to drive investment in broadband technology that fast-tracks job growth and provides a platform for spurring innovation across our state. My budget includes $3 million to help residents of rural Nevada use broadband access to start and grow businesses, or telecommute to anywhere in the world. These improved broadband connections will also allow the electronic exchange of health information between providers and hospitals to improve the quality of care."

In 2014, Connect Nevada estimated that nearly 94% of households in the state had access to broadband service with speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1.5 Mbps upload. Of the 8,933 then-unserved households, 5,175 were located in rural areas of the state. 

The state’s 2014 Residential Technology assessment revealed that:

  • 80% of adults in the state subscribed to home broadband service, up from 78% in 2010.
  • More than three out of five Nevada adults (61%) used mobile broadband service, up from 39% in 2010 when Connect Nevada began measuring this trend.
  • More than 423,000 adults did not subscribe to home broadband service. These Nevadans cited many different reasons for not subscribing, including cost, the belief that broadband is not relevant or beneficial to them, and a lack of digital literacy skills.
  • Nearly one in four parents of school-age children in Nevada (23%) said that their children’s school provided them with a laptop or tablet computer; the majority of those parents (55%) reported that receiving a computer from the school had a positive impact on their child’s grades.
  • Nearly one-half of working-age Nevada adults (46%) relied on the internet to seek out or apply for jobs, while one in three (33%) went online to further their educations by taking online classes.

The state’s 2014 Business Technology Survey revealed that:

  • More than four out of five businesses in the state (81%) used broadband, while 11,000 businesses do not.
  • 25% of businesses in the state had difficulty finding employees with the necessary technological skills.
  • Nevada businesses earned $15.6 billion in 2013 from online sales.

The report recommended:

  1. Nevada should create and fund an Office of Broadband Coordination, which would have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the various recommendations of the Technology Action Plan, in consultation with the Nevada State Broadband Task Force.
  2. The Governor should re-charter a multi-stakeholder State Broadband Task Force, with the head of the Office of Broadband Coordination. The Task Force should be chaired by the Head of the Office of Broadband Coordination, and members of the Task Force should include the private sector from the broadband and technology industry, relevant state agencies, and local leaders.
  3. Improve public safety communications, including statewide deployment of an interoperable public safety broadband network, NV911 implementation, public safety network infrastructure mapping, and support of Nevada 211 partnership.
  4. Analyze local policies and ordinances for conduciveness to broadband build-out, and ensure coordination between the state government and federal agencies regarding broadband infrastructure on public lands.
  5. Ensure ready and cost-effective access to poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way, both privately-owned and publicly-owned.
  6. Continue to map growth in broadband in Nevada and create more detailed broadband maps that will incorporate speed testing and validation of service speeds and map middle mile infrastructure, both lit and unlit.
  7. Establish a statewide “Dig Once” policy that will easily identify opportunities for joint trenching cost savings and ensure that broadband infrastructure improvements are considered alongside other infrastructure and public works projects.
  8. Establish state funding or match dollars that will support broadband deployment in areas without adequate service, which could leverage and maximize the impact of other federal broadband infrastructure funding opportunities, such as the Connect America Fund.
  9. Develop a single repository of vertical assets, such as communications towers, water tanks, and other structures potentially useful for the support of deploying affordable, reliable wireless broadband in less populated rural areas or topographically challenged areas.
  10. Incorporate business and zoning information into the Nevada broadband maps, specifically to analyze business access in areas for possible economic development.
  11. Develop or identify a Broadband Training and Awareness Program for small and medium businesses, Community Anchor Institutions, and other entities.
  12. Provide adequate bandwidth to all community mental health facilities in Nevada in order to support sufficient telemedicine and other institutional needs.
  13. Connect all K-12 school classrooms to the Internet in order to facilitate the implementation of the Nevada Department of Education’s Nevada Ready 21 Plan prioritizing technology-rich learning.
  14. Promote telemedicine expansion statewide, particularly in rural areas.
  15. Organize, promote, and deliver a technology awareness program that would increase the utilization of technology resources in the community.

Gov. Sandoval later launched the Nevada Connect Kids Initiative, created to increase broadband Internet access, adoption, and use across the state. As part of the Initiative, the governor announced an investment of $2 million for a state matching fund to ensure schools have the infrastructure they need to access high-speed broadband. The initiative was meant to leverage the federal E-Rate program by assisting school districts to apply for E-rate funds and helping with technical, procurement, and project management support.

In 2017, Gov. Sandoval signed SB 53, a bill sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology (OSIT) as part of a statewide broadband modernization effort. SB 53 enacted two policies:

  1. Dig Once: The law required the state to add excess conduit into any road construction project.
  2. Fiber Trading: The law allowed telecommunications providers to access excess conduit added as a result of Dig Once in exchange for helping the state expand fiber lines or fiber assets elsewhere in Nevada.

At the time, urban areas like Reno and Las Vegas had broadband infrastructure in place, but many rural parts of the state were lagging behind

Connectivity and COVID

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities—a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy center addressing key challenges faced by policymakers in Nevada—studied the digital divide's impact on the transition to distance education in the state. The research found two digital divides in Nevada: one related to students' access to computers and one related to students' ability to connect to the internet. Many households that did not have access to a laptop/desktop computer were also likely to lack access to the internet.

Looking at 2014-2018 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year Public Use Microdata Sample data, the researchers found that approximately 16.1 percent of Nevada’s households with children ages 6 to 17 did not have access to a laptop/desktop computer and 3.6 percent of households with children ages 6 to 17 did not have any sort of computing device. Statewide, approximately 10 percent of households with school-aged children lacked access to the internet. This suggested to the researchers that recent efforts to distribute computers to students, without also addressing access to the internet, still left approximately 26,000 Nevada households with school-aged children without a virtual means to connect with their teachers, interact with their peers, or receive instruction.

In response, the Nevada COVID-19 Task Force, a group of business leaders and community members, launched Connecting Kids, a public-private coalition formed in late July 2020. In just four months, partners in Connecting Kids tracked down every student in the state utilizing digital learning and ensured each had a connection to a device and reliable internet at home

High Speed Nevada Initiative  

According to the Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, as many as 450,000 Nevadans are underserved for high-speed internet access.

Also in response to the COVID pandemic, the state launched the High Speed Nevada Initiative. The objective is universal access to modern broadband infrastructure that provides all Nevadans access to an affordable, reliable, and scalable high-speed internet connection at their home or business. The initiative is combining federal, state, local, and private funding to close the digital divide. The state will use available funds to invest in long-term, life-changing infrastructure assets that will benefit Nevadans in their homes, schools, and places of business for years to come.

In Phase I of the initiative, the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology (OSIT) solicited bids from internet service providers to bring fiber-based broadband transport services to over 1,000 state and local government facilities as well as schools, libraries, and other community anchor institutions. These 1,000 facilities are located in every county and in nearly every community of the state. OSIT issued requests for proposals for ten regions of the state and solicited bids to serve every facility in the region. Regionalizing the bidding process was meant to increase competition for services and lower costs through bulk pricing. The purpose of leading with government facilities and community anchor institutions in Phase I is to ensure unserved and underserved government and community anchor institutions have the bandwidth and security to effectively provide essential services to constituents and community members while also efficiently using state and federal funding to bring fiber infrastructure to communities where modern, reliable, scalable infrastructure does not exist. Once fiber is brought to a government or school facility, other federal funding streams will be used to extend connectivity to surrounding areas.

Phase 1 will invest $200 million through a combination of state and federal funds from the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The overall initiative will be a $500 million investment.

At the Phase 1 launch in May 2022, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-NV) said, "The pandemic shone a bright light on issues that existed long before COVID-19 – In the past two years, we’ve seen just how important equitable access to high-speed, reliable internet is for work, education, healthcare, and civic participation. We cannot leave any community behind, urban or rural, as we work to close the digital divide."

2023 State of the State

Sisolak lost his reelection bid in 2022. The new governor is Joe Lombardo (R-NV), the former Clark County Sheriff. Gov. Lombardo only assumed office on January 2, 2023, but he indicated an ongoing commitment to universal broadband in his first State of the State Address. "It has been said that the soul of Nevada can be found in the people and places that make up our rural counties," he said. "Staying connected to towns like Carlin and Caliente, Gabbs and Gerlach, and Wells and Wadsworth is a top priority of my administration. To make this a reality, I am very proud to announce tonight that we will be making a $400 million dollar investment in broadband to accelerate statewide connectivity."

Federal Broadband Money

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has awarded five grants as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to expand high-speed Internet service network deployment and digital skills training to improve access to education, jobs, and healthcare in Nevada.

  • The Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada received over $18.9 million to install middle mile and last mile fiber and/or wireless directly connecting a total of 972 unserved Native American households and 7 Tribal community anchor institutions with qualifying broadband service across 11 Tribal service areas. Proposed service speeds range from a minimum of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps to 500 Mbps/500 Mbps or more depending on the service area. Working with Digital Technology Solutions, Starlink, Valley Electric, CC Communications, and CommNet, the project will:
    • Conduct a feasibility study for improved broadband infrastructure by assessing current Internet access options for Summit Lake Paiute Tribe. 
    • Install fiber middle mile and last mile for Carson Colony, Dresslerville Community Council, Elko Band Council, Lovelock Paiute Tribe, Stewart Community Council, and Woodfords Community Council.
    • Install wireless middle mile and last mile for Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.
    • Install fiber middle mile and both fiber and fixed wireless last mile for Yerington Paiute Tribe and Yomba Paiute Shoshone Tribe. 
    • Install a wireless last mile using low earth orbiting satellite to Summit Lake Paiute Tribe. 
    • Install a Telecommunications Center in each of the 11 Tribes to house network equipment.
    • Provide network support to each of the 11 Tribal service areas. 
  • The Walker River Paiute Tribe received $6,476,858 to install fiber directly connecting 418 unserved Native American households, 22 community anchor institutions, and 10 Tribal businesses with speeds from 25/3 Mbps up100/10 Mbps. 
  • The Duckwater Shoshone Tribe received $3,482,070 for a broadband infrastructure project that aims to install fiber directly connecting 78 unserved Native American households and 11 Tribal anchor institutions with a minimum of 100 Mbps symmetrical fiber to the home service.
  • The Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe received $1,669,771 to install fiber and fixed wireless to directly connect 313unserved Native American households with a minimum of 250/50 Mbps fiber to the home service and 100/20 Mbps wireless service. 
  • The Ely Shoshone Tribe is working to install a 96-strand fiber network to include service drops, strand and lash aerial fiber, and fiber to the home, directly connecting 118 unserved Native American households, the Tribal Library, and the Tribal Healthcare Clinic with between 50 Mbps and 1 Gbps symmetrical service. The Tribe was awarded $788,000 to support the work.

Nevada also tapped into NTIA's Broadband Infrastructure ProgramElko County—in partnership with CC Communications—won $7,350,000 for the Spring Creek Area project that will deploy a last-mile broadband network to connect 5,568 unserved households, 169 businesses, and 21 anchor institutions.

In January 2023, the U.S. Treasury approved Nevada's plan to use $55.2 million—41% of its total Capital Projects Fund allocation—to connect over 40,000 households and businesses to high-speed internet access. The award will fund Nevada’s Low-Income Multi-Dwelling Units (MDU) Broadband Program, a competitive grant program designed to fund broadband infrastructure to and within low-income housing. Capital Projects Fund support will be used to upgrade internet access in MDUs. Each of the internet service providers funded by the program will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program. [Nevada submitted plans for the remainder of its Capital Projects Fund allocation and the application is currently under review by Treasury.]

On December 20, 2022, NTIA awarded Internet for All planning grants to Nevada. Nevada received $5 million for:

  • Research and data collection, including initial identification of unserved locations and underserved locations;
  • Publications, outreach, and communications support;
  • Technical assistance to potential subgrantees, including through workshops and events; and
  • Developing an informed, cohesive Five-Year Action Plan.

Nevada has until mid-September 2023 to complete its Five-Year Action Plan to qualify for Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program support.

Nevada also received $754,458 for:

  • Development of a robust State Digital Equity Plan;
  • Community and stakeholder engagement; and
  • Data collection and analysis.

Nevada has until December 2023 to complete its State Digital Equity Plan.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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