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Federal Money Bringing High-Speed Internet to Rural Nevada

As part of the Internet for All project, which aims to connect Americans to affordable high-speed Internet, a special program will bring new connections to Nevada homes and businesses.

Rural Nevada.
(TNS) — As part of the federal government's Internet for All project, which envisions connecting Americans with affordable high-speed internet, a special program will bring high-speed internet to Nevada homes and businesses through a local-level partnership.

"We created a set of program rules," Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program Director Evan Feinman said in a phone interview from his office in Washington. "Those rules create some very broad guardrails. And states have the opportunity to chart their own path between those guardrails in a way that makes sense for them."

He said the program "is not a top-down federal program that's just picking winners and losers."

"Rather, this is a partnership between the federal government and the state government," which will "close the digital divide and get every single American home and business access to an affordable, reliable high-speed internet connection."

The program will work with states to develop a plan that makes sense and follows the rule guardrails, he said.

Then, the state will implement that plan, making two major operations happen. The first is a challenge process to fix the state FCC internet access map. "That challenge process is the way the state figures out what's correctly and incorrectly categorized on the state map," Feinman said.

"Nevada is actually in the middle of that process right now," he added. "There is an urgent call to action right now for citizens to make sure their home or business or both are accurately reflected on the map."

Examine map

Speaking about Elko, he said, "Your readers should look at the FCC map and make sure that the map accurately shows whether or not they have access to a high-speed internet connection. If they don't, they need to let their local government know that right away, so their local government can let the state broadband office know."

Nevada residents can submit a challenge at

"Once the state broadband office has identified all the areas that need service, then they will conduct subgrantee selection." In other words, "we make a grant to the state of Nevada, the state of Nevada will then make subgrants. Our grant to Nevada was a little over $416 million," he said.

"The state will then make subgrants to private sector partners who are internet service providers, to build network out to the about 50,000 Nevada homes and businesses which have no access to the internet."

The program not only assists homes and businesses with a lack of internet but also with a low quality of existing internet access. "We need the challenge process to identify the many thousands more who have access to the internet but have it at a low speed. And so once they conduct that process — and ISPs will compete to serve all these different folks — they will pick the winners on the basis of a transparent and open scoring rubric. They will then report those back to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration."

After the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program ensures the winners followed the process they agreed to, they will receive funds for building internet networks.

"All of those networks are going to be built on a reimbursement basis. This is not going to be about getting a check to the ISPs and trusting them that they're going to get the job done. We're going to have them do the job and then get reimbursed as they go," Feinman said.

Rural network costs

"The reason the private sector hasn't solved this problem on its own is the fundamental math problem of building telecommunications networks in rural parts of the country. A mile of fiber in downtown Reno or Las Vegas costs about the same amount as a mile of fiber strung out in a rural part of the state. But you can imagine you can get a lot more customers along that mile of fiber in either of those cities, so the revenue that comes in is quite large," Feinman said. "The revenue that you're going to get out of the rural area, you might only pick up two, three or four customers. So, charging them $50, even $100 a month, you're not going to get back what you invested."

He said building the partnerships with internet providers helps to "buy down that cost so it makes economic sense for somebody to build and then operate the network. Our customer density is pretty low."

Permits are another significant obstacle facing internet installation in Nevada, he said.

"Nevadans know there is a lot of federal land throughout the state. We're working with our partners across the federal government right now to dramatically streamline the approach to permitting that we're taking, so we can make sure these networks get built quickly and with a minimum of red tape."

Monitoring, oversight

The last challenge will be ensuring the internet service providers "do what the taxpayers have paid them to do," Feinman explained. "We're going to have a very robust monitoring and oversight system in place on both ourselves and the state, to make sure that when the taxpayers make a contract and say, 'You're going to build network to these folks and get them online,' our private sector partner does what they contracted to do."

What does the timeline of this project look like?

"We are extremely close to approving the second part of Nevada's initial proposals," Feinman said. "They had to get us their plan for how they're going to do this by the end of last year. And we approved the challenge process portion of their plan."

He said the next step is selecting the providers, known as subgrantees, and putting the areas of Nevada narrowed down in the challenge process out for bid. "That will take a couple of months and then they will document all that, and they'll put it out for public comment. Folks will be able to see, here's what the state plans to do and here's how they're going to get you all online."

He said Nevada then "will then absorb that comment and turn their plan in to us at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. We'll approve it. And they're off to the races, they can get under contract with internet service providers and start building immediately after that."

But he said it comes back to that challenge process first. "I really do want to emphasize the importance of the challenge process. The window closes on March 28."

If the FCC map says someone has internet access when they actually lack it, "there's no way for us to know that they need service," he said.

"We really do need broad citizen participation to make sure that this thing works and gets everybody. The second thing I think is really important: the eligible challengers are local or tribal governments, nonprofits or ISPs."

As part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has awarded over $35 million to Nevada tribal groups, with $500,000 going to the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone.

"A citizen needs to work through their local government or through a nonprofit to get those challenges into the state broadband office. Local government is going to be your best bet," Feinman said.

© 2024 Elko Daily Free Press, Nev. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.