First all-fiber community in Nevada after buildout
Just a few weeks ago, veteran school counselor Teresa Sullivan was monitoring two classrooms full of freshmen and sophomores taking a Nye County-issued academic test at Beatty High School. Too many students were struggling — and it wasn’t because of the difficulty of the questions. It was the Internet connection. They kept losing it.
“They’d raise their hands and say, ‘Mrs. Sullivan, I’m getting an error message’ or ‘I’ve lost my connection again,’ ” Sullivan said. On one morning, more than a half dozen students needed to be moved to another computer, or begin their test all over again, resulting in frayed nerves and time lost.
Sept. 15, that scenario was officially reversed. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval joined executives with Valley Communications Association (VCA) to celebrate the school’s connection to a fiber-optic circuit, the first link in a chain making Beatty Nevada’s first all-fiber community.
“This is a big day for rural Nevada,” said Gov. Sandoval. “Residents who choose to live in small rural communities like Beatty know that there are tradeoffs to the wide-open spaces and more simple, rural lifestyle. Total access to the Internet through fiber optics will eliminate a huge barrier, which has long-range impacts ranging from medical care to education and even to economic development.”
“The rest of Beatty will be right behind the high school when it comes to high-speed communications,” said Valley Electric CEO Thomas H. Husted. “High-speed broadband is just as important in Beatty as it is in Las Vegas, Reno or anywhere else in the country. Our Cooperative is proud to help bring this important technology to rural residents of our great state.”
Sandoval said he was impressed to learn that the connection in Beatty will provide students with the same access as they might get in New York City or Chicago.
“That’s why I like to say Nevada and Beatty punches above its weight,” he said to students in the crowd. “All of the opportunities are here. It’s up to you to take it and use it.”
Fiber-optic is state of the art infrastructure in communications. It is faster and more efficient than cable.
To mark the achievement, a ribbon spanned the Beatty High School gym. Beatty High School senior Halen Grover and junior Miguel Castro joined the governor and other officials to cut the ribbon.
The Hornet’s gym was abuzz with activity packed with Beatty High School students joined by middle and elementary school students who walked almost a mile to be part of the celebration. VEA Ambassadors in their signature blue shirts rounded out the crowd.
The trip was a big deal for many Ambassadors, but perhaps none more so than Belinda and Kenneth King.
“This is the first function I have been able to attend since I had to resign in February as chairman of the Legislative Committee because I was given three weeks to live,” Belinda said as she waited for the ceremony to begin.
Now in full-remission after intensive cancer treatment, she said it was a miracle she could be there to see VEA’s achievement.
“I wanted to be here to uplift Valley Electric,” Belinda said. “I’ve always been active in it. And this is the first time I’ve been back.”
Husted said bringing fiber optics to Beatty was not easy.
“Quite frankly it was extremely difficult at times. We faced many challenges,” he said. “But Valley Electric Association through the pioneering spirit that we’ve had for 52 years is alive and well today. Bringing power to Beatty and all the other remote valleys 52 years ago was difficult also. At Valley doing the difficult thing is a day-to-day job for us. It’s in our DNA.”
At Beatty High School, part of a school district that spans 18,000 square miles and home to 125 students, unreliable internet connection has for years compromised the quality of education, where most lesson plans are Internet-based. Teachers grade, take attendance and communicate with parents via cyberspace. A program known as “Distance Education” allows students to repeat failed classes from home.
“Continual breakdowns just stop you in your tracks,” said Rob Williams, Director of Technology for Nye County School District and former principal at Beatty and Amargosa schools. “And the students knew that they were missing out. When they call from home and say they can’t get online, we couldn’t fix that for them. Fiber-optics will make a massive difference.”
Husted said only a few short years ago the idea of gigabit broadband service in Beatty was a distant dream.
“Some said it was a fantasy, but here it is,” he said. “Beatty serves as an example to all of rural Nevada that high speed communications, just like energy, is not a luxury. It’s critical infrastructure that’s needed everywhere, and it can happen everywhere.”
Nye Country Superintendent of Schools Dale A. Norton said internet is like water and power in today’s world, and he’s excited to see where access leads the district.
“I am proclaiming as we move forward, with a focus on student learning, that Nye County School District will the fastest growing county in education in the state of Nevada,” he said.
Julie Moen, who teaches Consumer Science and Career Education, says that rural students like those at Beatty High deserve every technological advantage that their urban counterparts have.
“We’re trying to help kids negotiate the 21st century,” said the teaching veteran of three decades. “You don’t want to go backwards. If your entire educational system is technology-based, you need quick and easy access to that technology.”
The public safety benefits of fiber-optic capability in rural towns will be a game changer, said Dr. Michael Reiner, a family practitioner, who operates the Beatty Medical clinic. “We were about to shut down the medical clinic in Beatty because of reduced patient visits and high cost of providing services.
“With fiber coming into Beatty, I agreed to keep a provider in the medical center on a limited basis knowing that it would allow us to have a virtual provider there five days a week, eight hours per day,” said Reiner. “This is absolutely the difference between us being in Beatty to support the town and us not being there. Patients will not have to travel 68 to 200 miles round trip on a very dangerous highway to obtain simple medical care. I am very excited for what this means to the town and to its health.”
Through its VCA subsidiary, Valley Electric Association (VEA), has plans to provide broadband connectivity throughout large sections of rural Nevada. “We’ve partnered with Switch and Churchill County Communications to provide fiber to rural communities along the route from Las Vegas to Reno,” said Husted. “High-speed broadband is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. Our continued expansion of fiber-optic capabilities will allow rural communities to participate in community and economic development opportunities like their urban counterparts, becoming more self-sufficient in the process.”