A Fiber Oasis in Nevada

There’s more to Nevada than sparkling casinos and vast expanses of arid desert. A six-hour drive north of Las Vegas – about an hour drive east of Reno on I-80 – is Churchill County.

Thanks to an irrigation system fed by the Walker, Truckee, and Carson Rivers, Fallon – the county seat – has long been known as the “Oasis of Nevada,” surrounded by abundant agricultural land with over 600 farms spread across Churchill County’s 5,000 square miles.

Two weeks before Christmas of 2020, county officials were celebrating a different kind of growth when CC Communications broke ground on a new headquarters that will consolidate the 132-year-old telecommunications company’s administrative, network, and customer service operations under one roof.

County Commission Chairman Pete Olsen praised CC Communications for putting the county on the proverbial map because of the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network the county-owned company launched in 2015.

“This is a step on the path towards continuing to build out an amazing home-grown company inside Churchill County,” Olsen said. “It’s an incredible story. We’re so lucky to have this business here in our community, and it’s county owned.”

It was in 2008 that CC Communications first began construction of its $40 million FTTH network, lighting up its first gigabit customer in 2015. Today, Olsen reported, more than 85% of the homes and businesses in Churchill County now have access to the network and get broadband, VoIP and TV services. The residential price for a 100/10 Megabits per second (Mbps) connection is $50 a month; 150/50 Mbps for $70 a month; 250/50 Mbps for $100 month; and a 1Gbps/100Mbps connection for $300 a month. 

The current take rate is about 70%, CC Communications CEO Mark Feest told us last week. Feest said the take rate would be higher but there is a segment of the population who simply cannot afford the service. He said he is hopeful that the new Biden Administration will help improve access to broadband for low-income families. “That really seems to be the barrier - not being able to afford the cost of service, especially in tribal areas and I think this new administration will have a focus on that,” Feest said.

Nearby Expansion

With a company motto “Big enough to deliver, small enough to care,” CC Communications is in the process of getting bigger, delivering fiber connectivity to Elko and Spring Creek, 250 miles east of Fallon.

In October of 2020, Feest told the Elko Daily Free Press that Phase 1 of construction would connect Elko Summit Estates, downtown Elko, and neighborhoods adjacent to 12th Street and Lamoille Highway.

“Phase 2 will move beyond the downtown commercial district, as we are currently engineering systems for residential services on both sides of Interstate 80,” he said.

Feest told us the service that will be offered in Elko and Spring Creek will be fiber broadband and VoIP phone service only, based on previous surveys CC Communications conducted asking residents which particular services they wanted.

That expansion project is “along I-80 between Reno and Salt Lake City and there are many small communities in that corridor that lack broadband, as well as tribal entities. One major challenge is there aren’t points of presence for fiber backhaul for those communities,” he said. “We are working right now to bring a plan to fruition that will acquire dark fiber so we can establish our own backhaul and then more bandwidth can be distributed to those end-users. That will create diversity so Internet traffic can be routed through Reno or Salt Lake City,” Feest explained. 

The expansion into Elko isn’t the first time CC Communications was called on to help build broadband infrastructure. In 2012, CC Communications partnered with Valley Communications Association (VCA) based in Pahrump and the Las Vegas-based data center and technology infrastructure corporation Switch, to build a 450-mile fiber route connecting Reno and Las Vegas.

The partnership laid the groundwork for CC Communications to further extend its fiber network to rural communities in northern Nevada as happened when CC Communications brought fiber to the Mineral County School District.

“The most difficult challenge in rural areas is obtaining the backhaul necessary to deploy robust fiber fed infrastructure. Without that connection back to the Internet Gateway, the potential of fiber to the home cannot be achieved,” Feest told Lahontan Valley News when the partnership was announced. “This partnership is key to enabling providers to eliminate the digital divide in much of rural Nevada.” 

For more on how Churchill County got started on their broadband journey, listen to Episode 204 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, where Christopher speaks with General Manager Mark Feest.

Header image by Chanilim714 from Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.