Churchill County utilities join with Switch to provide fiber-optic communications to remote Nevada
FALLON — Lightning fast fiber-optic communications will soon be a reality in remote areas of Nevada, thanks to a partnership involving Switch, the world’s leading data center and technology infrastructure ecosystem corporation and two rural Silver State utilities, officials from the companies announced Wednesday.
Valley Communications Association (VCA) of Pahrump and Churchill County Communications (CC Communications) of Fallon have joined forces with Switch, the Las Vegas-headquartered data center provider and global technology solutions company, to “light up” a new fiber route from Las Vegas to Reno.
Construction began in 2012 to create an ultra-high-speed communications backbone between the Reno and Las Vegas metropolitan areas, passing through more than 450 miles of western rural Nevada. The joint collaboration with longstanding, successful, Nevada-based utility companies will enable the build-out to extend to rural communities in the state as well.
“This is a dream come true for rural communities like the ones we serve,” said VCA CEO Thomas H. Husted. “High-speed broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Communications is critical infrastructure everywhere for 9-1-1 communications, education, rural business and economic development. The needs in rural areas are just as important.”
The partnership makes it cost-effective to provide high-speed communication to rural areas such as Amargosa Valley, Beatty, Yerington and Hawthorne, among others.
Service and maintenance of the 500-mile, multi-terabyte, fiber optic network that mostly parallels Highway 95 will be shared by the utilities. VCA covers Tonopah to Las Vegas; CC Communications from Tonopah to Reno. The utilities will develop and offer broadband services to businesses and residents along the corridor.
The 500-mile route through Nevada coupled with the complete SUPERLOOP pathway through the state of California also delivers the most direct and comprehensive route for data to reach its destination.
Founded in 2000 by CEO Rob Roy, Switch’s data centers deliver high-density, multi-tenant locations that provide unparalleled agile technology ecosystems to more than 1,000 clients, including eBay, Amazon, Intel, DreamWorks and Sony.
Switch’s new fiber connectivity will make it possible for schools, hospitals, and residents throughout Nevada – but especially in rural communities – to access high-speed broadband and the data that runs the planet. Switch’s goal is to make Nevada the most connected state in America.
VEA began rolling out high-speed broadband in its 6,800-square-mile service territory in 2015, piggybacking on the existing fiber-optic network it installed a few years prior to manage its electric grid.
“You have to have a driver,” Husted said. “For us, it was the optic fiber we installed to manage our vast electrical system. Our No. 1 priority is to connect the members we serve in western Nevada. Beyond that, we want to make this great asset available to the other rural areas of the state.”
The benefits to education in particular are tremendous, and cannot come fast enough for rural schools and healthcare providers.
“Switch is so proud of this partnership to make Nevada the most connected state in the country,” said Adam Kramer, executive vice president of strategy for Switch. “Completing this critical infrastructure is a game changer for Nevadans living and learning in the most rural reaches of our state.”
Because of current slow internet speeds, rural schools are unable to rely on online video communication tools such as Skype that allow distant schools to share teaching resources.
“The simple process of taking standardized student tests can be frustrating,” said Dale Norton, superintendent of Nye County Schools. “Such tests are administered over the Internet. In rural communities, service is slow and unreliable. “Lost connections midway through a test can force students to start over, and that is not fair to any student.”
The opportunities presented by the partnership is welcome news to Tom Lyman, the lone teacher in Gabbs, a mining town of 552 residents, 85 miles southeast of Fallon. Lyman’s school has just 32 students in all 12 grades.
“As it stands, we can’t even run our online learning program because the internet speed is so slow,” Lyman said. “We can’t download a file from YouTube. It sometimes takes two to three minutes for a computer to change from one screen to the next. Other times, it knocks the kids plum out of the program.”
CC Communications began its fiber to the home build out to residents of Churchill County in 2008, and turned up its first gigabit customer in 2015. This partnership will allow the company to continue to serve rural northern Nevada and expand its offering to other communities. CC Communications recently worked with Mineral County School District to receive a State grant to bring fiber and Gig services to schools currently served by wireless and 100MB connections. That project is the first in what is sure to be several that are made possible by the partnership with Switch.
“The most difficult challenge in rural areas is obtaining the backhaul necessary to deploy robust fiber fed infrastructure. Without that connection back to the Internet Gateway, the potential of fiber to the home cannot be achieved,” said Mark Feest, CEO of CC Communications. “This partnership is key to enabling providers to eliminate the digital divide in much of rural Nevada.”
In time, Switch and the utilities said the partnership will allow the utilities to further expand their broadband reach to places without commercial broadband providers.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.