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Valley Electric awarded federal broadband grant

Valley Electric Association was awarded Friday a $527,326 Federal Communications Commission grant to provide fiber-optic cable under the Connect America Broadband Project, for part of its service territory.

VEA Chief Executive Officer Tom Husted told the board of directors in November the co-op had applied for a $799,000 grant under the program. Thirty percent of the grant will be awarded up front, he said.

VEA made a list of provisionally selected bidders published by the FCC last Friday.

“Obviously we’re concerned about offering broadband, the possibility of running fiber to all our members across the service territory,” Husted said. “In Connect America the project is designed first off to address communities of need. In our area those areas are Fish Lake Valley, Indian Springs including Creech Air Force Base, also some properties that are closer to our Northwest Substation in the north part of Las Vegas.”

The co-operative has retained a consulting company working with telephone co-ops and electric co-ops in the Midwest on what it’s going to take to prepare a business plan to run fiber across the entire VEA service territory, he said.

“We’re excited about the possibility of that. As we said in the past we believe communication is instrumental, one of the economic drivers within our service area, our businesses and our members. We believe if Valley does not step up to the plate and provide these services then our members will probably not be on par with our urban counterparts,” Husted said.

Board member Shiela Rau said it could broaden the VEA membership base.

“In order for our service area to be on par and competitive with the urban areas we have to have the critical infrastructure, water, sewer, electricity and communications. Broadband communications is instrumental to be able to run a business or to run a home or school in this day and age. Valley Electric has been a proven leader and a responsible party in providing that critical infrastructure on the electric side for 50 years. We’re believe we’re poised to be able to run fiber to provide broadband to our members,” Husted said.

Fish Lake Valley is a drastically under-served area, the elementary school in particular would greatly benefit from broadband access, he said.

Rau sees the opportunities broadband Internet could provide for telemedicine, and for firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Husted said a VEA fiber-optic line could have helped prevent an outage like the one that occurred in Pahrump Sept. 23 when a CenturyLink contractor struck a fiber-optic link causing Internet and cell phone outages.

“A month or two ago we lost communications with the community completely. We don’t have that backup. So with the infrastructure we’re putting in we’re going to create redundancy to the fiber networks,” Husted said. “That is going to help the present providers and plus it’s going to be a more robust system within Pahrump and within Fish Lake Valley.”

Husted told board member Peter Gazsy some of the fiber optic would be installed underground, some will be on poles.

Husted said the cooperative itself will benefit for its operations.

“We have real time communication across our service area. As we continue to grow and further utilize technology that bandwidth becomes much less as we utilize it more. So this positions us in the future to have that availability of robust bandwidth that we need to continue operating our company the way we do now,” Husted said.

Chief Financial Officer Rick Eckert said it will transform the electricity cooperative into an integrated, energy management association.

In unveiling the Connect America Broadband Project in 2011, the FCC estimated 18 million Americans lacked access to broadband Internet access. The FCC expects consumers who make long-distance calls – including nearly all landline and mobile phone subscribers – will benefit from reduced prices or greater value for the money – or both, with an FCC-estimated $1 billion or more per year in benefits for wireless consumers alone.

In July, the FCC adopted a $100 million budget for rural broadband projects.

The Nevada Hospital Association began construction on a fiber-optic line that will allow telemedicine. The 140 miles of fiber network was completed between Reno and Silver Springs in late August. Future segments will continue down U.S. Highway 95 through Tonopah, Goldfield, Beatty and Pahrump before terminating in Las Vegas. Nevada Broadband Network President John Clayton said the project has been held up by the acquisition of right-of-way from 866 private parcels and easements from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Defense.

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