Rampant speculation has swirled since January as to the moves and motives of a secretive Northern Nevada blockchain-focused business that purchased more than 67,000 acres of land at an industrial park northeast of Reno.
Nine months after the massive land sale was announced, Blockchains LLC has made public its first major initiative — constructing a major fiber optic telecommunications network at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, the industrial park that is also home to Tesla’s Gigafactory.
The company submitted a telecommunications application with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in late August, starting the process for a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company (Blockchains Communications) to “build, operate, and maintain a new fiber optic network” serving businesses inside the industrial park and for “future residents of the surrounding area.”
“Blockchains Communications has the means and capability to employ, consult, contract and partner with advisors and third-parties to carry out the demands of merging blockchain technology into the telecommunications industry,” the company wrote in the application. “Blockchains Communications is already working towards such endeavors with its management team.”
Fiber optic Internet is a type of broadband infrastructure alternative to cable, DSL and fixed wireless that allows for much faster download speeds over longer distances. In its application, Blockchains said it will have the ability to offer businesses in the park connections speeds of 1G, 10G and possibly 40G levels. Sarah Johns, a spokeswoman for the company, said she couldn’t comment on the fiber optic project.
It isn’t the only move the under-the-radar company has made in the lightly-populated Storey County area — it’s also won acclaim from a wild horse advocacy group for devoting water to the population of feral horses that roam the industrial park.
The fiber Internet project is the first tangible enterprise proposed by the company since it was formed in 2017 by California attorney Jeffrey Berns, who has largely kept his plans for the company and the more than 100 square miles of land it owns under wraps.
The company’s stated focus is on developing applications for blockchain technology, a digital alternative to making transactions that record data in a public ledger that is open to users and available on the Internet. The best known example of the technology is the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but the underlying technology is either being used or considered for other purposes beyond digital currency.
Blockchains describes itself as a “premier innovator” in the blockchain space, that “conceptualizes and incubates blockchain-powered ideas, ventures, and businesses.” It lists financial services, “trusted identity solutions” and software development as three areas it will focus on developing blockchain-based “apps” as part of its business model.
As of June, the company had opened a 25,000 square-foot headquarters and hired more than 70 employees — with plans to hire more than 1,000 by 2021.
The application filed with the PUC included a map of the proposed service territory, which includes much of Storey County. It also states that the company has hired Gary Bayer, a networks specialist who previously helped data center company Switch complete a $30 million infrastructure project and has consulted on fiber optic projects for Verizon and CenturyLink in California.
The application also noted that the company is “engaged in significant discussions” about Verizon building a cell tower with telecommunications equipment on property owned by Blockchains. It also stated that it is engaged in “discussions” to obtain bandwidth and ISP services from several providers, including AT&T, as part of the fiber installation process.
Plans for faster Internet service are not the only thing Blockchains has done in recent months at the industrial park — the company is also participating in a program to provide water to feral horses that roam the Virginia Range, where the park is located. Increased development has made it more difficult for the horses to reach a water source, especially in the summer.
In recent months, Blockchains, Switch and the industrial center’s General Improvement District have devoted small amounts of their water rights to hydrating the horses. Blockchains is using a spring to offer horses water on their vast land holdings, but it’s unclear how much water is being diverted.
Although most wild horses in Nevada are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, the horses that roam the industrial center are managed by the Nevada Department of Agriculture. A falling out between the department and a horse advocacy group has left the long-term future of the horses in jeopardy. The department argues the horses near the industrial center pose a public safety risk, as they sometimes cross USA Parkway, which runs through the park.
Johns said the company also made a donation to the American Wild Horse Campaign, the group that had the dispute with the state, to fix a well on Blockchains’ property. The company shared a promotional video produced by the wild horse campaign on its official Facebook page.
Disclosure: Switch has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can view a full list of donors here.
Daniel Rothberg contributed to this story.