Clark County, Nevada, CIO Bob Leek said localities must meet rising demand and invest in the future.
Even as the Federal Communications Commission considers revising its definition of broadband internet upward, one local leader said governments should aim for even higher speeds than the FCC chair’s recent recommendations, given the public’s “insatiable appetite for bandwidth and speed.”
Since 2015, the FCC has defined broadband internet as a connection that has a 25-megabits per second download speed and a 3 Mbps upload speed. But in July, commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel proposed increasing that minimum to 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.
Clark County, Nevada, is going further. It has a goal of providing every internet user with a 1-Gbps connection, the county’s Chief Information Officer Bob Leek said during Route Fifty’s Tech Summit. The faster-than-recommended baseline, he said, is driven by the demands for high-speed internet from residents as well as businesses that are experimenting with new technologies like augmented and virtual reality.
Leek said setting a much higher standard speed now means that it will not need to be revised again – for at least a while.
“If we're going to make this tremendous investment in the infrastructure, we should think about what would build resilience for 30 years,” he said. “We don't know what 30 years from now is going to look like — some of the science fiction shows might provide us some insight into what they think — but we know that for the residents, visitors and business owners here, they deserve gigabit speed as their connectivity.”
The FCC’s current definition of broadband “isn’t just behind the times, it’s a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline,” Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in July. A Notice of Inquiry she circulated among her fellow commissioners set a separate national goal of 1 Gbps download speeds and 500 Mbps upload speeds for the future.
Leek said Clark County will reach its goal by investing heavily in fiber infrastructure as it is the best way to provide high-speed access. But he acknowledged there is a long way to go, as less than 30% of county residents currently have a fiber connection and are instead mostly reliant on access provided by the cable companies.
However, Leek noted there is a “purple ring” of available fiber showing up on broadband availability maps around the city of Las Vegas in some of the newer suburban infill communities that have sprung up in the last 20 or 30 years, which he said shows the growth in connectivity.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to installing fiber infrastructure will be the construction needed in the public right-of-way, something Clark County wants to make more efficient through encouraging “dig once” policies that are growing in popularity across the country.
Leek said the county’s fiber must be placed underground to avoid the effects of heat and wind, but it is difficult to install underground cabling through impermeable desert rock. He said Clark County would explore microtrenching to install more fiber, as some other cities are trying.
While the county’s regional transportation bodies are on board with using the right of way to install infrastructure, getting homes connected remains a challenge. “It's the last mile problem that we have to address,” he said.
The federal dollars set to pour in through the bipartisan infrastructure law to bolster broadband connectivity creates a “tremendous opportunity” to get more people online, Leek said. But he added that local and state governments must work together alongside residents and regional organizations to ensure deployment is done in the best way possible and make certain there is a “full, inclusive opportunity for people to fully participate economically and socially.”