ELKO – A fiber internet provider is set to break ground in April on a $30 million broadband system with capacity to serve every home and business with high-speed internet in Elko, Spring Creek and Lamoille, thanks to financial support from Nevada Gold Mines.
Idaho-based Anthem Broadband will receive an initial $10 million through NGM’s I-80 Fund and an additional $20 million through an NGM endowment fund to launch the Elko Area Digital Transformation Project. Financing from NGM provides Anthem Broadband with the capital it needs to build broadband infrastructure community-wide.
Through the partnership, the mining company and broadband provider help solve an issue that has plagued the community for years: getting left behind with inadequate internet.
Elko was rated in 2020 as having the sixth-worst internet service in the United States, while some third-world countries have better internet quality, said Elko Mayor Reece Keener.
“There is a huge need for quality internet in rural areas and this project will enable many opportunities for our communities that are a challenge with our current internet options,” said Greg Walker, NGM executive managing director. “The COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for reliable internet services even more so with remote learning options and telehealth accessibility. This project will also help grow our economy, attracting businesses to the area by providing the necessary infrastructure for them to succeed.”
Fulfilling a needBecause the Elko area is remote and the number of connections per mile of infrastructure is low compared to high-density population areas, the capital cost of providing high-speed internet is prohibitive to most companies. Some organizations provide service in Elko by targeting high-density areas where return on investment is more profitable, but community-wide service has been a long time coming.
Anthem Broadband was “prepared to put their hand up when everyone else wanted to run away,” Walker said.
Providing rural areas with internet fits into Anthem Broadband’s business model and history, said Jacob Larsen, CEO.
“Anthem Broadband was developed around the commitment of bringing high-speed broadband to underserved areas,” he said. “Our goal is to transform a community and provide a quality service to everyone in the area. We are only successful when we serve everyone in the area and don’t believe in cherry-picking key areas of high return when leaving others to suffer.”
Construction is expected to take about two years, and hookups can occur concurrently with construction. The earliest connections could be as soon as this summer. Packages available will range from 250 megabits per second to 10 gigabits per second. Based on national trends, Anthem Broadband expects the 1 Gb package to be the most popular, said Nicholas Owings, chief marketing manager for Anthem Broadband.
Once the infrastructure is in place after about two years, Anthem Broadband will have repaid the bridge loans with interest and must secure alternative funding through a different source, according to its binding agreement with NGM. The money that returns to the NGM I-80 and endowment funds will be available to lend again to other economic development and small-business efforts.
The agreement also stipulates that Anthem Broadband cannot pass initial capital costs on to consumers. End-users will not have to pay extra to cover construction or activation fees, Larsen said.The NGM-Anthem Broadband partnership does not restrict other providers from offering internet services in the community.
Working as a teamCommunity leaders have been working to bring better broadband to the Elko area since 2017 when then-Gov. Brian Sandoval charged a state office to improve internet service in rural Nevada.
JoJo Myers Campos, broadband development manager for the Governor’s Office of Science Innovation and Technology led the effort statewide, while Keener chaired the Elko Broadband Action Committee.
At the same time, the Spring Creek Association Board of Directors sent out a request for proposals to identify a provider to serve Spring Creek, with Anthem Broadband putting in a proposal under its company’s previous name, Safelink Internet. The initial plan for Spring Creek would have required broadband customers to pay about $800 in fees to offset construction; the NGM loans now void that requirement. CC Communications also submitted a proposal and is moving forward with laying fiber optic cable to serve Spring Creek and Elko.
In Elko, the city council waived franchise fees for broadband and communications companies for five years starting in 2020 at a cost to the budget of $100,000 per year to encourage providers to enter the market.
About two years ago, NGM stepped in to find out how the mining company could help. NGM leaders recognized the need for reliable high-speed internet to improve citizens’ quality of life, and to aid with recruiting and retention of qualified mine employees.
“What it will do is not only help us as individuals but also the well-being of the community and business of Nevada Gold Mines,” Walker said.
Supporting infrastructure projects in communities where a mining company operates is fairly common, Walker said. Although for Barrick Gold Corp., the company behind NGM, large-scale infrastructure projects usually occur in developing countries where investments focus on basic needs such as housing, health care and education. In this environment, “internet is a basic need,” Walker said.
Through a search process, Myers and her team selected Anthem Broadband as the best potential provider for the area. Subsequently, NGM hired a consultant to investigate the company’s financial and integral capacity to take on the project.
Anthem Broadband, previously Safelink Internet, was founded in 1997 and now has about 20,000 customers in Idaho, Oregon and Montana. The company employs about 120 people in Idaho and plans to open an Elko service center with local technicians. Anthem Broadband changed its name from Safelink Internet “to mirror the growth, transformation, and future of the company,” Anthem Broadband stated in a letter to customers March 1.
NGM and Anthem Broadband committed to having weekly meetings during the build-out to ensure that the project remains on track and on budget.
After Anthem Broadband connects Elko, Spring Creek and Lamoille, NGM plans to continue working with the company to expand to Carlin, Battle Mountain, Wendover and Winnemucca.
“I’m really excited that Nevada Gold Mines has stepped up to help us with this to make this possible,” Keener said. “It is a tremendous endowment not only to the Elko citizens, but it will have economic repercussions into the beyond.”
Representatives from Nevada Gold Mines and Anthem Broadband gathered in Elko on March 22 to confirm details of a partnership to provide high-speed internet to Elko, Spring Creek and Lamoille. From left: Mike Ricks, Anthem Broadband, chief operating officer; Elko Mayor Reece Keener; Jacob Larsen, Anthem Broadband CEO; Greg Walker, NGM executive managing director; Nicholas Owings, Anthem Broadband chief marketing officer; and Brian Woodland, Anthem Broadband chief financial officer.