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Nevada Asks FCC to Reconsider ‘Deeply Flawed’ Broadband Maps

Two Democratic U.S. Senators from Nevada want the state’s broadband office and other entities to verify and submit more accurate data, to better represent the state’s broadband connectivity.

(TNS) — Nevada Democratic U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen this week sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking the body to reconsider maps drafted for the Silver State's broadband Internet connectivity, calling the drafts "deeply flawed" and warning that such maps could perpetuate the digital divide among the state's urban and rural areas.

In the letter, sent Wednesday to FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and three other commissioners, they detailed concerns from state and local leaders after the Nevada Office of Science Innovation & Technology found more than 20,000 purported "broadband-serviceable" locations the agency believes overstates coverage.

They asked for the FCC to coordinate with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to give the state's broadband office and other entities 60 days to verify and submit more accurate data, according to a copy of the letter.

The maps are often misleading because if a company offers services to a particular neighborhood, but not the whole town, the map would show that entire town as being serviced when in fact it's only partially serviced.

And those flawed maps could cost Nevada millions of dollars in federal funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as broadband funds guaranteed in the law depend on usage tracked through the maps.

Counties that are the least connected to broadband access are directly linked to higher rates of chronic disease and preventable hospitalizations, they cite in the letter.

"Access to high-speed broadband access is no longer a luxury, but rather is an indispensable part of our lives," they wrote. "As many of our rural communities continue to struggle to connect to the Internet, it is impacting their economic prospects and their educational and health outcomes as well."

The maps currently used by the FCC are "iterative," according to the senators, meaning the maps are updated periodically with new data, and also rely on self-reported information provided by local Internet service providers. The state also found incorrect information on the quality of service available at some locations.

"This level of inaccuracy has even greater impact when considering the vast space and rural nature of our state," the letter continued. "However, these concerns cover all areas of the state, including urban, suburban, rural, and Tribal communities where already underserved communities are going to be further hampered in their ability to access affordable and quality Internet service."

Nevada ranks 35th nationally as the most-connected state in the U.S., according to the Office of Science, Innovation & Technology's most recent comprehensive broadband connectivity report. That report also states that over 99 percent of Nevadans living in urban areas have access to broadband access at or above 25 megabit per second download speeds and upload speeds of three megabits per second, the current FCC standard. In the state's rural areas, however, access to broadband is at just 66 percent.

Secretary of State: Transition Has Been Smooth

Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, a Democrat, hit the ground running Tuesday on his new position, crediting his predecessor Barbara Cegavske for being helpful in the transition.

"Having somebody who knows the positions, was in the position, knows the current situation and all the potholes ... it's invaluable," Aguilar said of Cegavske. "Shutting down the things that I've done over the last couple of decades has been hard, but there's also optimism for what the future holds."

Luckily for Aguilar, his relationship with Cegavske predates long before he sought office.

Aguilar and Cegavske first met when he was general counsel for the Agassi Foundation for Education, he said. Cegavske, a Republican, was a state lawmaker with connections to the late Jim Rogers, a former chancellor for the state board for higher education.

The relationship of two decades was paramount in the transition.

"Knowing her those two decades I've been in Las Vegas, it's been helpful because I think she understood who I am as a person, what I want to accomplish for our state, and that I want to serve our state as a whole, and using her model as a guide and making sure we're serving all Nevadans," said Aguilar. "But she's been open, she's been honest. She's been really truthful about what the challenges are and what the future looks like from her perspective.

"She's also been giving us unfettered access to what we need in the office and to the staff, helping us realize where we can do things well and what things are going to be a challenge."

That access wasn't limited to advice. Several of Cegavske's staffers are staying put, Aguilar said, giving him an experienced staff out of the gate and her satisfaction that unfinished projects handed off to Aguilar will be continued.

What those projects were, Aguilar wouldn't say. Cegavske was unable to be reached for comment.

Immediately after the election, Aguilar recalled, he and Cegavske met at her office in Carson City to hold "frank" discussions about the post moving forward. Since then, the two are practically on each other's speed dial, Aguilar said.

"Nobody likes being caught off guard, and she has tried to minimize surprises any chance she could," Aguilar said. "And it all goes back to her love for Nevada. She has a deep, deep love for this state, and she wants to make sure that some of the work she did continues to be at the forefront."

That spirit of bipartisanship will be important for all statewide officials to keep in mind should lawmakers want to make meaningful change, Aguilar said. That includes working with Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, who along with Aguilar was sworn in at the capitol last week.

"This is a state that's unique in the fact that a Republican and Democrat could come together and say 'This is what we want to do, and this is what we want to accomplish for our state.' and be able to take that information and drive it forward and trust the information you're receiving because you trust and respect that person," Aguilar said.

(c)2023 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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