By Vern Hee
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr brought national attention to Southern Nevada April 9, during visits to Beatty, Amargosa Valley, Pahrump and Mountain Springs to get an update on the progress of high-speed broadband in Valley Electric Association Territory.
Bringing high-speed broadband to rural America is a top priority for the FCC
Carr heard from medical professionals, educators, business owners and residents during his day-long tour, mostly in Nye County.
Carr started the morning at the Beatty Medical Clinic, a facility that likely would no longer exist if Valley Communications Association had not brought high-speed broadband to the clinic several months ago.
“We tried using telemedicine out here before VCA, but the speeds … we couldn’t make it work,” said Dr. Michael D. Reiner, a family practitioner serving Pahrump and Beatty. “Then VCA came with the higher speeds and we were able to conduct visits.”
The clinic keeps some Beatty patients from making expensive, time-consuming trips to Pahrump or Las Vegas for treatment.
“I couldn’t do it without the fiber; without the (broadband) speed you wouldn’t get this kind of interaction,” said Reiner. “It has been a godsend. The world revolves around Internet, and this is a good example of how it is useful. My hat is off to VEA for bringing the higher speeds.”
Carr is one of five commissioners of the FCC, which regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in the U.S. The Commission is responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.
During his visit to Nye County, Carr said he gained a new appreciation for the value of broadband in rural areas.
“It is helpful for us to get out here and see the real difference it makes when they get that broadband infrastructure,” Carr said. “To be able to go from potentially closing down the facility, people having to drive 60 to 100 miles to go to Pahrump or forgo medical treatment all together … it really makes a difference and sheds light on what we are trying to do, which is get more broadband out there.”
Beatty High School Principal Chris Brockman told Carr that faster Internet speeds now allow students to take state-mandated tests without interruptions, a constant issue before high-speed broadband was installed by VCA last fall.
Carr later toured Ponderosa Dairy in Amargosa Valley. Quality Assurance Manager Sara Hoy explained to Carr that the dairy’s staff depends on high-speed Internet connectivity to get 15,000 Holsteins fed daily. Broadband also helps her communicate vital medical information about the herd remotely to veterinarians in Colorado.
“It’s interesting to see how remote (the dairy) is and what it takes to keep the herd healthy,” Carr said. “We continue to learn more every time we take a trip out here. We learn about some of the things that are jamming the providers up,” the commissioner said. “And what we can help them with back in D.C., like easing of the regulations on federal lands.”
Carr was impressed how Valley Communications serves its members with broadband.
“We have work to do,” said Carr. “It is interesting to see the work that Valley Electric Association has done to bring connectivity to rural areas,” Carr said. “It’s not easy work. It is obviously very capital intensive to bring broadband to low population density areas. But we see a tremendous amount of payoff.”
Carr finished his Southern Nevada visit with a town hall meeting in Mountain Springs. The commissioner got an earful from a dozen residents who must endure slow internet speeds even though they are so close to a VCA fiber line that it can be seen from the firehouse where the meeting took place. Regulatory hurdles have delayed connection to broadband.
Carr said he was sympathetic to their concerns. “No matter how you slice it, the current regulatory process is broken. It is helpful to hear from real people like you with real problems.” Carr promised to personally call officials at the Federal Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies that have slowed the process down. “It’s not a top priority for BLM. It’s not in their DNA.”
Photos by Jeff Scheid