Nevada BEAD Funding Hampered by State’s Protectionist Law

Nevada is looking at an historic influx of broadband funding thanks to the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). But state laws designed to shield monopolies from competition have added unnecessary complications to the state’s quest to maximize an historic round of public broadband funding. 

Nevada’s broadband expansion push (the “High Speed NV” initiative) will occur in two phases. First, $192 million in federal Covid relief funding will be used to drive broadband access to roughly 1,000 different anchor institutions. Another $200 million in BEAD funding will be used to expand last mile access to Nevada residences and businesses. 

In many states, cooperatives, city-owned utilities, and municipalities are playing a huge role in ensuring uniform and affordable access to next-generation telecom infrastructure. Such creative, local solutions are increasingly the only meaningful competitive challenge seen by the nation’s politically-powerful telecom monopolies. 

But Nevada is one of 17 states that have passed laws, usually ghost written by those same regional telecom monopolies, greatly restricting the construction and financing of municipal broadband efforts.

Two different Nevada laws (Nevada Statute § 268.086 and Nevada Statute § 710.147) currently state that only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services, undermining efforts to bring more competition and lower pricing to bear in more populous areas.

State Preemption Laws Remain

While the NTIA has encouraged all 17 states to relax or eliminate laws prohibiting municipal broadband networks, Nevada is not pursuing any changes in its controversial state law, Brian Mitchell, director of Nevada’s Technology Office, recently told StatesScoop

Mitchell claims that the state will engage with local communities as much as possible via bi-monthly meetings with community-led broadband teams. But the arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions—laws crafted by monopolies to protect monopolies from change—will remain intact.

State officials estimate that roughly 450,000 Nevada households currently lack access to high-speed Internet, though those estimates are based on unreliable FCC mapping data, meaning the problem is likely significantly worse. 

Applications for Phase I of the High Speed NV initiative are currently open, and the state has divided the state into 10 target regions to take advantage of existing middle mile and other fiber initiatives, encourage competition between existing providers, and ensure more uniform deployment of affordable access.

“If we’d put out an RFP and said here’s a list of facilities, raise your hand or bid on each one individually, then there would obviously have been some facilities where we wouldn’t get any bids, because they’re located in far away places,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell and other Nevada state leaders are urging smaller ISPs to work together to have a better shot at successful bids. Though we’ve documented how in many states, entrenched monopoly providers often saddle federal grant applicants with costly and unnecessary challenges, often falsely claiming any new competition is “duplicative.” 

Municipalities and city-owned utilities will still play a role in Nevada’s pledge to cure the digital divide, though those efforts will remain arguably less complete courtesy of the protectionist shackles hampering their expansion across the state.