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Clark County may hike cost on wireless company equipment

Clark County is considering a new funding plan to spread high-speed internet throughout the Las Vegas Valley and beyond: Charge wireless carriers more to install equipment on public light poles.

“These rates are comparable to what the carriers are paying in other cities, so they shouldn’t be shocked,” said Mike Harwell, the county’s assistant manager of business license operations.

But one major carrier, Verizon, already has voiced displeasure with the proposal.

The increase in licensing fees would be part of the county’s first broadband wireless master plan. County staff is working with Dallas-based broadband consultant Connected Nation Exchange to write the plan, which will help regulate contracts with wireless companies.

Those companies pay as much as $700 a year for each pole holding their cells. The low-powered nodes expand cellular coverage and increase network capacity inside a range of about 1,500 feet.

At a presentation before county commissioners in December, CNX project manager Anthony Perez recommended increasing such fees to $3,960 per year for pole locations on the Las Vegas Strip. Licensing fees for keeping equipment on poles elsewhere in the Las Vegas Valley would be $2,500 per year.

Annual fees would stay the same in rural and underserved areas.

A fee increase would net the county about $2 million from 100 poles holding equipment on the Strip, Harwell said. The county could use the extra revenue to install more underground fiber-optic cable.

Harwell said he believes the price increase would not drive wireless carriers away.

“I think the demand is there,” he said.

Indeed, companies submitted more than 230 requests to install new small-cell sites in 2016. Fewer than 100 total requests were made during the previous 10 years.

Still, Verizon spokeswoman Jeannine Brew wrote in an email that her company views the proposed increases as “excessive and cost-prohibitive” and could affect how quickly the county sees 5G technology.

“Such fees will be a significant impediment to deploying this critical infrastructure,” Brew wrote.

Representatives from Sprint and AT&T did not comment on the proposed fee increase.

Harwell said he hopes to have a draft of the master plan ready for review by county commissioners before the end of May.

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