In as little as 18 months, the newly formed Pacific Rural Gas Cooperative (PRGC) plans to deliver natural gas and broadband to Spring Creek, Nevada, and to neighboring Lamoille shortly after.
Broadband Needed in Rural Nevada
Nestled at the base of the Ruby Mountains in northeastern Nevada, Spring Creek is a small town of about 12,300 people that originally formed in the 1970s as three large housing sections. The municipality mainly serves as a bedroom community for businesses and industries in the nearby City of Elko. The economy is mostly based on gold mining, with limited ranching, tourism, and manufacturing also providing jobs. Former Nevada governor, Jim Gibbons, who now owns a 40-acre ranch in Lamoille and Tariq Ahmad of Satview Broadband Ltd.founded the co-op in order to serve the 57-square-mile-area in Elko County where those services still do not exist.
Nevada prohibits municipalities with populations greater than 25,000 and counties greater than 50,000 from offering telecommunications services, but small municipalities and co-ops have been stepping up to provide broadband to rural areas. Last year, Churchill County Communications (CC Communications) began partnering with the Valley Communications Association of Pahrump (VCA) and Switch technology to bring fiber to rural areas of southern Nevada along US Highway 95.
Despite the recent progress in other areas of the state, Spring Creek and Lamoille still need the services PRGC can bring to their communities. Like many other rural communities, large national ISPs have resisted investing in infrastructure needed to offer high-quality connectivity.
While JAB Wireless advertises broadband in the area, the company only provides terrestrial fixed wireless, a service often requires line of sight access between a ground station and subscriber. Beehive Telephone Companies, the only other provider of broadband in the area, brings Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to less than one percent of census blocks in Spring Creek and Lamoille.
Frontier Communications Corporation, the designated Telephone Exchange Area provider, offers Internet access, but no broadband, defined by the FCC as services with a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Not including terrestrial fixed wireless and satellite services, the average speed of all Internet in the area remains well below the FCC threshold at 10.3 Mbps download and 3.2 Mbps upload.
A Little Competition
PRGC’s proposal claims the company will meet the broadband and natural gas needs of all existing residents in Spring Creek and Lamoille and accommodate for growth over the next 30 years. The company plans on using a “single trench model” to install natural gas pipelines and fiber optic lines using existing cable company rights-of-way.
The proposal puts PRGC in direct competition with Southwest Gas, an investor owned utility that currently serves Elko County and has been attempting to bring service to Spring Creek for years. While Southwest Gas has made little headway in the area, in 2015, it lobbied the state Legislature for a bill that would allow it to expand its infrastructure and has since been investigating project feasibility.
The Co-op Advantage
Cooperatives have an added benefit when it comes to funding because as nonprofit organizations, they can apply for federal rural energy grants to pay for feasibility studies and capital projects. PRGC took advantage of the opportunity. On June 20th, the Members of the Elko County Board of Commissioners voted to also support their grant application for $125,000 to finance a feasibility study under the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Economic Development Assistance Program. The commissioners also voted for $5,000 of the County’s 2018-19 budget contingency fund to go toward the project.
Commissioner Rex Steninger explained to the Elko Daily Free Press how bringing natural gas and broadband to Spring Creek and Lamoille would improve residents’ quality of life and promote economic development. He said, “There are 15,000 residents out there that we could help out… I think it’s worth the $5,000 commitment.”
Photo of Spring Creek by G. Thomas at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.