The chief information officer (CIO) for Clark County, Nev. – which houses the city of Las Vegas – aims to bring broadband to 100 percent of eligible residents and businesses through access, affordability, and adoption.
According to CIO Bob Leek, this is no easy task. The county is the tenth largest in the nation and about the same size as the state of New Jersey. It serves 2.3 million urban, suburban, and rural residents and 43 million tourists to Vegas annually.
“We have somewhat of a unique challenge,” Leek said at the GovExec SLG Tech Summit on Nov. 1. “We have to address issues and concern from an urban perspective, . . . a suburban perspective, and then in the rural areas.”
“The rural areas, as many experience in other areas around the country, is the most severely underbuilt. And that’s because, primarily, it’s really expensive to lay this infrastructure in place,” he said. “Access to the internet is very, very limited.”
With 70 percent of Nevada’s population residing in Clark County, Leek’s job as CIO is critical to not only implementing broadband, but also sustaining the service for households – and one he does not take lightly.
The first component that Clark County is looking to address when it implements the broadband initiative is access – and a big part of access is high-speed. But there’s a bit of a disconnect on what constitutes high-speed, Leek said.
“We believe the proper definition at this point should be gigabit speed for everybody,” Leek said. “Our goal is that every endpoint should have gigabit speed.”
Clark County is pursuing this higher-than-average speed because as technology quickly evolves, the CIO wants people’s internet access to withstand it. If they set a standard that’s only incrementally better than what’s available now, Leek said, they’ll have to empty their wallets to readjust the infrastructure again in 15 years.
“If we’re going to make this tremendous investment in the infrastructure, we should think about what will be resilient for 30 years,” he said. “For the residents, businesses, and business owners here, they deserve gigabit speed as their connectivity.”
Leek is also implementing a “dig-once” policy, so the construction necessary for accessible broadband doesn’t disrupt communities more than once in a short span of time.
Affordability and adoption are the other two components Clark County is focusing on for its broadband implementation.
According to Leek, the county found that its price point for high-speed access is greater than its similarly sized counterparts. The county’s research also discovered that adoption is not a given – the county plans to teach citizens digital literacy so they can use the technologies once they are provided.
“Just putting a device in someone’s hand doesn’t make them digitally literate, and so the third component of the plans that we have are around adoption and the ability to actually use the technology once it’s available and affordable,” Leek said.
So far, only about 40 percent of households have signed up for the broadband program, Leek said, but to reach 100 percent participation, organizations have to work together.
“We’ve got to work together – the provider community, local and state government – supported with all the funding,” Leek said. “There’s just a tremendous opportunity to really make a difference in our community and create that full, inclusive opportunity for people to fully participate economically and socially.”