Broadband Is A Growing Need in Rural Nevada
Technology is becoming a larger part of our lives, having an impact on education, the economy and medicine. Those are some of the reasons why Governor Brian Sandoval held the inaugural Broadband Summit at the Capitol Building, Monday. “He’s very passionate about connecting schools, connecting libraries, hospitals, health clinics and communities throughout Nevada,” Brian Mitchell, Director of Nevada Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology said.
While urban areas like Reno and Las Vegas have broadband infrastructure in place, many rural parts of the state are lagging behind. Humboldt County School District Superintendent David Jensen says his schools have made strides in the past few years with things like WiFi, but they won’t be where they should be for another three to five years. “The target is to have 800 megabytes per second for each student,” Jensen said. “When you look at Humboldt County, because of our limitations, we’re currently under 300.”
Four of Humboldt County’s 11 schools are considered remote rural. The hard part of getting broadband into those places is partly because of cost, terrain and distance. “If you look at Denio, it’s 100 miles one way from Winnemucca,” Jensen said. “Getting the fiber connections to Denio and Kings River really are challenging for us right now.”
Monday’s Broadband Summit brought stakeholders together, including officials from rural school districts to look at funding options. The state’s budget includes £2 million for this type of infrastructure, but there is also £3.9 billion of federal funding available. E-Rate Central is a program that provides discounts up to 90 percent to help rural schools and public libraries pay for broadband.
Nevada has 0.8 percent of the nation’s K-12 student population, but since 2013, it has only received 0.4 percent E-Rate’s support. Representatives were on-hand to maximize that amount. “With the state’s matching funding for special construction builds with fiber, potentially the entire project could get paid,” Eric Flock, Director of Consulting Services for E-Rate Central said.
The goal is to get rural school districts on the same level of technology as any other school in the country. “Fundamentally, it’s an equity issue that students in small towns like Austin or Lovelock or Eureka have the same kind of education that a student in Henderson or Reno or Sparks would have,” Mitchell said. “It’s important that these rural communities have the same chance as any kid, Las Vegas, New York City, wherever they live regardless of income or zip code,” Jenny Miller, Engagement Manager for Education SuperHighway said.
Miller says Nevada has come a long way in the 1.5 years since Education SuperHighway came to the state, and as technology improves in schools, it has a positive impact on the entire town. “We do find that once we connect these schools, they become sort of a community-anchor institution,” Miller said. “So, it does have…this is what I love about it…an economic effect on the rest of the rural community.” Since there are smaller populations in rural counties, there is less return on investment because providers would not have as many customers.
It would be difficult to get the infrastructure in place without the federal funding, which is what Sandoval and his staff are hoping for. “This is the technology of the future,” Mitchell said. “It’s the way of the future. For me, broadband is every bit as critical infrastructure as electricity, as roads.”
Since the Summit is the first of its kind in Nevada, you could say it is the starting point for many of the rural school districts, who are responsible for making the first move towards getting funding for broadband infrastructure. The meeting is helping them learn what the next step should be to. “We’re really looking at ways, not only to increase the access but to reduce our cost expense, and that’s what we think we can accomplish through the partnerships we’re establishing, today,” Jensen said.
Along with school districts, officials from rural hospitals and health clinics, service and telecommunication providers, higher education, small businesses, the governor’s office and even construction companies attended the Summit.
“It’s really unprecedented levels of leadership from the community, and Nevadans really stepped up, today,” Miller said.
Other topics at the Broadband Summit includes cyber security and telemedicine.