From Connected Cows to a Bear that Deploys Broadband — How Connectivity Brings Opportunity to Rural Communities

By Micheal Lee

MountainsNye County, Nevada covers a vast and rural part of the Silver State. It is the third largest county by area in the U.S., and its geography is marked by arid desert, rugged mountains, and plenty of sagebrush. It averages just about two residents per square mile. It is the type of place where the businesses case for broadband deployment is tough. But thanks to new fiber and wireless deployments, it is a place where broadband is making a difference — bringing medical, educational, and economic opportunities to rural communities. I had the chance to spend a day there earlier this month.

I started out in Beatty (population 1,010).

Beatty, Nevada
Beatty, Nevada

Beatty, which got its start in the wake of the area’s 1904 gold rush, has just one medical clinic. But the clinic was about to shut down due to the difficult economics of serving such a rural community and the need to bring in a doctor that lives in a larger town. For those in Beatty, closing the clinic would have meant driving about 70 miles to the nearest hospital or forgoing medical care altogether.

A new broadband connection made the difference. It meant that Beatty Medical Clinic could stay open. Today, when you visit the clinic, a nurse named Theresa checks you, takes your vitals, and sets up an online video connection for you with Dr. Reiner, who is based in a larger town. I tried it out, and Dr. Reiner told me over the video connection how he’s been able to serve Beatty remotely using broadband. One resident turned out to have a deadly infection that Dr. Reiner diagnosed in time to save his life.

Dr. Reiner (left) and Theresa at Beatty
Video Connection with Dr. Reiner (left) and Theresa at Beatty Medical Clinic (right)

After the clinic, I got spend time at Beatty High School. I learned about the slow and unreliable Internet speeds that school had just last year. I heard about connections that would drop while students were taking online tests and how they would need to begin their exams all over again. Now, the school has a new, high-speed connection, and I talked with students and teachers alike about how they are using the Internet for distance learning and other online opportunities. Many of the students said they don’t have any Internet access at home, which makes their school’s broadband connection even more important.

Broadband is also key for the local economy. I met a woman named Ladonna that relocated to Beatty from Reno after her mom got sick. She now runs a small business — Beatty Graphics, which offers website design, social media, and marketing services to the county and other local businesses. With just a DSL connection, she’s been able to keep the business going and serve local clients. But a new fiber connection is being deployed and Ladonna says that this will make a big difference by enabling her to take on more clients and expand her business beyond Nye County.

Broadband is also transforming agriculture. More so than ever before, farmers and ranchers are looking to incorporate broadband into their businesses. I saw this when I drove along the Amargosa River to Ponderosa Dairies, which houses about 15,000 cows.

Man and woman standing in front of cows
Ponderosa Dairy; Amargosa Valley, Nevada

About a year ago, Ponderosa got a high-speed, fixed wireless connection. Now, their cows are all tagged with RFID chips. Sarah, the manager there, jokes that they’re “connected cows.” The chips collect information on the cows’ health and feeding, and this data is then uploaded via a high-speed wireless connection to a vet located in Colorado and a nutritionist based on California. Those experts then analyze the information and recommend adjustments to feeding cycles to maximize productivity.

From Ponderosa Dairies, I visited Nye County’s largest town — Pahrump. But this is a community that did not even have telephone service until the 1960s. And there was little to no broadband until recently. Now, fiber is being deployed throughout the community and bringing jobs and opportunities with it. That’s where I met Bear, who is running a crew that deploys aerial fiber.

Bear has been deploying telecom and utility infrastructure for 35 years. He told me that “broadband is the future,” and that new deployments are keeping him and his crew busy. Visiting with Bear’s team served as a good reminder of the hard work that goes into every new mile of fiber deployment.

There were plenty of success stories in these communities. From healthcare to education, from small businesses to smart agriculture, broadband is transforming opportunities for residents of Nye County.

But work remains in getting more broadband to more Americans.

Mountain Springs, Nevada

I held a round table at a fire station in Mountain Springs, Nevada, where residents spoke with passion about the lack of broadband and even their inability to get reliable cell phone coverage. They spoke about their frustrations and how their lack of connectivity is holding them back economically and undermining public safety. I heard about three people that were injured in a car accident and had to hitchhike before they could get a signal and call for help.

This is why the work we do at the Federal Communications Commission is so important. Next-generation networks can build on the success stories we’ve seen — they can enable even more innovations and yield even greater opportunities for communities. And the right policies can make the difference between communities being connected or remaining on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Take our decision last month to modernize and streamline our approach to wireless infrastructure deployment. This one action is expected to cut 30% from the total cost of deploying next-gen wireless infrastructure. It is expected to eliminate over $1.5 billion in regulatory red tape, which is money that can be re-invested to deploy broadband infrastructure in underserved communities. This is an example of where regulatory reform can flip the business case for entire communities.

Going forward, the FCC will continue to look at ways to streamline our rules to make it easier for businesses to invest in next-generation broadband infrastructure across the country.