Southern Nevada is underperforming when it comes to providing affordable internet access and rates to residents, county commissioners said Tuesday.
As elected officials consider using federal funds to expand broadband access, Clark County heard from economic development consultancy HR&A Advisors receive an assessment of infrastructure capacity in the area and review future policy recommendations.
Based on limited data provided by federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, Simon Mettler of HR&A Advisors said the report “found indications that prices for the average high-speed internet plan in Clark County are a slightly higher than the national average.
On average, 50 megabits per second, the unit of measurement for internet speed, costs $47 nationwide, rising to $69 at 200 megabits per second. The presentation noted that the Clark County average is $70 and $90 respectively, between a 30% and 50% increase.
The company looked at three components: access, or infrastructure-based broadband availability in the region; adoption, which includes digital literacy, availability of computers and willingness to purchase packages; and affordability.
“When it comes to the adoption of things, in terms of the number of people taking and using broadband internet plans, we found that Clark County is not at the bottom of the pack when it comes to peer counties , but right in the middle with around 70% adoption,” he said.
The numbers varied between census tracts represented by different income levels.
“A significant number of census tracts and neighborhoods throughout the county are reporting less than 50 percent high-speed Internet usage,” he said.
The less accessible areas, the presentation notes, have an average income of $32,000.
Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she suspected conditions could be worse than presented, but wondered where to find the data to support that suspicion.
“I feel like I have to ask all the vendors to prove us wrong or show something different,” she said. “It’s a shame that there are a lot of census tracts, historical census tracts, that have less than 50%. I think it’s worse than that. I think that’s not telling the truth. Where do I request the data? I have no problem asking out loud my expectations and if people aren’t producing them, you can’t complain if you don’t share your resources.
The data on which the presentation is based, which is provided by the federal government, is limited.
More detailed data “is only really available from internet service providers today,” said Danny Fuchs of HR&A Advisors. Communities across the country “have often struggled to obtain household information from ISPs because it’s proprietary data that ISPs keep,” he said.
The FCC, he said, plans to update its information, but the effort will take time.
The presentation notes that fiber optic cables, a necessary tool in broadband services, are limited to 30% of county homes, and that “fiber expansion is critical to the county’s economic future.”
County Commissioner Justin Jones asked if the county is moving forward with fiber optic cable investment, could it require an internet service provider to hand over requested information as a condition of financial support County.
“Is there a reason why if we decide to invest in fiber, we couldn’t tell any of the other providers that you can’t connect to our fiber unless you give us the data that we ask ?” He asked.
County legal staff did not have an answer readily available at this time, but said they would see if that was an option.
Fuchs said other cities and states have deployed similar tactics.
“I would argue that the technique of encouraging data sharing or other practices through public-private partnerships or private use of publicly funded infrastructure is precisely what government agencies seek to do. in cities, counties and states across the country right now,” he said. .
The presentation comes as the county seeks to expand high-speed internet access and attempt to bridge the digital divide, a resource gap between wealthy areas and low-income neighborhoods.
The commissioners said the pandemic has underscored the importance of expanding internet access.
Schools have shifted to online learning while businesses have shifted to working from home, but those without internet or broadband infrastructure have often struggled.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, bipartisan legislation that Congress passed in November, includes historic funding for roads, bridges, clean water and broadband internet.
Nevada will receive $100 million to expand broadband Internet service.
Fuchs also suggested “exploring internet service providers that might be interested in public-private partnerships that aren’t in the county but might be interested in achieving your public policy goals and developing a more competitive environment for the count”.
Other suggestions in the presentation include requiring affordable housing development to include fiber connections and creating a county broadband program team.
The county has not taken action on the article.
“We have to keep moving forward and figuring out who our partners are and who they’re not,” Kirkpatrick said.