While national policymakers are searching for a way to expand broadband Internet service to rural America, they might learn a thing or two by taking a close look at Churchill County, Nevada. The county of 25,000 people has plenty of Internet options.
"There's probably no one in the county that can't get high-speed Internet service," said Bob Adams, General Manager of CC Communications, a county-owned telephone company.
CC Communications began in 1889 when Western Union announced it was discontinuing telegraph service in the county. Churchill County purchased the lines for $950 and began providing the service itself.
Full range of services
Today, CC Communications provides telephone, television, cellular, technical and security services. Adams says the company added the ISP side of the business in 1994 with dial-up but transitioned to a DSL-type broadband service in 1998.
For a while the company supplemented its wired service with wireless Internet, but spun-off the wireless division of the company and invested the money in fiber optic.
"Seventy percent of our county residents are eligible to receive fiber optic service," Adams said.
CC Communications serves about 5,000 Internet customers. In addition, consumers can choose to receive high-speed Internet from Charter Communications, a cable TV provider in the county. It's a wealth of Internet riches most rural areas simply don't have. Many areas are limited to dial-up, mobile broadband or satellite service, all of which have distinct limitations.
Why some rural counties have few options
Adams says a big difference in the under-served rural areas is the fact that they must rely on large "price cap carriers," like AT&T and Verizon, rather than small locally-owned providers. Whereas price cap carriers are reluctant to spend on infrastructure in sparsely-populated areas, the locally-owned providers see it as their mandate.
"We serve our county residents the best we can and we don't have to worry about a profit, where price cap companies are publicly traded and face pressures we don't," Adams said.
Earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Wireline Competition Bureau announced it is seeking input on how the FCC should estimate the cost of bringing broadband to underserved areas in territories serviced by AT&T, Verizon and the nation's other large price cap carriers.