Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2018

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County exploring enhancements to increase cell coverage on Strip

People don’t always want what happens in Las Vegas to stay here. They want to livestream it on social media, and all that increased data usage is taking a toll on existing cell towers in the resort corridor.

Clark County is currently working to revamp its policy on allowing wireless carriers to install small-cell nodes on its light poles and other property. The revamped policy could raise millions of dollars of additional revenue for the county and increase cell service in densely populated places like the Strip, convention centers or a future stadium.

Mobile data usage has grown exponentially over the past decade and is expected to outpace existing network capabilities by 2020.

County staff has been working with Connected Nation Exchange, a broadband consulting company based out of Kentucky, to come up with a comprehensive strategy for keeping up with the technological demand. Commissioners on Tuesday received an update on their efforts and a list of recommendations.

Those recommendation included determining what assets — such as light poles, buildings and parks — are available to license out, revising the fee structure so it is comparable to other cities, and using increased revenue to promote broadband access in underserved communities.

Clark County currently charges wireless companies between $500 and $700 annually to have a small-cell emitter attached to a public light pole. That rate is significantly lower than other cities. The respective pre-pole rates in Boston, Phoenix and San Francisco are $2,500, $3,000 and $4,000 annually.

With its current licensing fees rates, the county brings in approximately $50,000 annually.

Connected Nation Exchange recommended the county bump its pole licensing fee to $3,960 annually in the resort corridor and $2,500 in non-resort corridor areas. They also recommended keeping the fee at $700 per pole annually in rural and other underserved areas to encourage providers to invest in these areas.

Those increased rates would bring in almost $2 million within the resort corridor and $2.5 million outside the resort corridor over a five-year period.

Requests from wireless providers to put small cells on light poles increased last year 3,000 percent over the 10-year average, according to county staff.

Mike Harwell, assistant manager of operations for business licensing for Clark County, says the current money earned goes to the general fund but that the revamping of the overall plan might include reinvesting some of those funds into fiber and other infrastructure that allows for better services.

“This is a way to try and get the county to develop a broadband plan for the future,” he says, adding that with autonomous cars and other developing technology the need to think ahead as a community is crucial.

The county will continue working with Connected Nation Exchange into the upcoming year.