Jojo Myers Campos is the state broadband development manager and has been working on the Nevada Connect Kids Initiative for the past two years. In Nevada, cities are separated by vast deserts, mountains, and lakes – making it difficult to build scalable infrastructure to rural areas. After years of research, Jojo and her team proposed solving the problem through community broadband upgrades – bringing together stakeholders across towns to build business cases for upgrades. Utilizing the combined power of several anchor institutions, the Nevada Connect Kids Initiative has been instrumental in upgrading K-12 schools so that students can take advantage of digital learning in the classroom.
Tell us about your journey from working in telecom, economic development, and now the Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology in Nevada. What experiences led you to become passionate about expanding broadband access?
My expertise in economic development and telecommunications made my position as the state broadband development manager a perfect fit. Economic development includes expansion, growth, and investment, to include technology development and advancement while telecommunications directly involves the expansion, growth, and investment of this technology development and advancement. Economic development also aligns with the retention, expansion, and recruitment of business. I remember companies would put Nevada on their top three list of business-friendly states, just to lose them to another state because of better broadband infrastructure assets or lose them to the two areas best connected, Reno and Las Vegas, so I became very aware of our lack of infrastructure in Nevada many years ago. Today through the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology we get to help build assets in the very areas that deterred business growth. When you see the impact that connectivity makes in our schools, our healthcare systems, public safety, while creating opportunities for economic development, you just cannot help but be passionate and know we are making a difference.
What were the biggest challenges back in 2017 when you began working on the Nevada Connect Kids Initiative? What are the greatest challenges in connecting the remaining schools in Nevada that lack high-speed connectivity? How has working with EducationSuperHighway been impactful?
The heavy lift of creating the Nevada Connect Kids Initiative and getting it through legislature had already been done, it just lacked the implementation plan. It lacked the process to turn strategies and plans into action for the state of Nevada. We closed that gap by contracting with a team of E-rate experts from E-rate Central and a network design engineer from Mighty River. The schools that still lack high-speed internet are in areas that are very rural and remote. These frontier areas have minimal infrastructure if any at all. Through the federal funding mechanism called E-rate we are closing the connectivity gap. EducationSuperHighway has been extremely instrumental in their dedicated commitment to get all schools connected to at least the FCC standard of 100 kbps per student. They have worked with our organization to track schools in every Nevada county, outlining the need, and working alongside us as we check off their list, one school at a time. The partnership has been invaluable.
One of the ways your team has worked to connect students is looking outside the K-12 schools and implementing community broadband upgrades. Can you tell us more about this approach, and how you have begun to see the impact of these collaborative upgrades?
We created a process called the Whole Community Connectivity Approach. We start with the anchor institutes, key stakeholders, and commercial businesses and then expand out through the community. We start by gathering data and creating surveys for both residential and commercial so a business case is documented. We write a statement of need and evaluation criteria. After receiving responses we engage private sector providers to create a strategic plan for connectivity. Through this process, we look at leveraging federal funds where applicable, aligning Senate Bill 53 (SB53) projects with city and county master plans, and designing solutions for industry sector demands. Step by step we start connecting the dots determining a regional direction that will future proof our cities and counties in Nevada.
Working in OSIT, you have the opportunity to see how technology is changing education and the workforce on a daily basis. How do you see technology improving education challenges in the future for Nevada?
Connecting our rural schools is giving the students the same opportunities as if they live in Reno or Las Vegas. Improved technology advancement is allowing students to participate in digital and distance learning. It is allowing students to take online classes and engage with online homework portals. For libraries, it is giving students a physical place to do homework and join online interactive homework tutoring.
Do you have any advice for state leaders and policymakers that are looking to upgrade students and teachers in their own states?
Yes. Use every opportunity available to build infrastructure: E-rate program, USDA grants/loans, Rural Development grants, make sure EVERY new school built has a robust broadband infrastructure plan, create private/public partnerships, and create state policies with the department of transportation that include fiber/conduit infrastructure and dig once principles of action.
Stay tuned for the next installment in our Broadband Leaders series, and feel free to connect with us on social media to celebrate K-12 connectivity leaders in your state.