Jerry Smith Speaks on Los Alamos Broadband at Lunch With a Leader (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 09 Apr 2022

Jerry Smith Speaks on Los Alamos Broadband at Lunch With a Leader

The March League of Women Voters' Lunch With a Leader featured Jerry Smith, the county's new Broadband Manager. I wrote it up for the LWV newsletter, but since that's PDF, I thought I'd post a more accessible copy here.

Smith fell in love with New Mexico in college, started visiting regularly in the summers (including getting chased into a lake by a bear!) and eventually settled here. He's worked in IT for nonprofits and schools, installing 500 miles of fiber for K-12 schools across the state.

He reviewed what "broadband" means: speed requirements vary, but the latest USDA grant requires a guarantee of 100 megabits per second for both downloading and uploading. Los Alamos would need improvement in both the "middle mile" and the "last mile".

The middle mile, for Los Alamos, is the fiber optic link "off the hill". We only have one middle mile feed now, which is less resiliant, and the lack of competition leads to higher prices.

The last mile is the part that goes to each household. Right now most of us are on old technology, DSL or cable. Our two main "last mile" providers are national companies, and Los Alamos is a small fish to their big pond, so we're not seeing any investments by them. There are other technologies, like satellite, that are more appropriate for remote rural areas. There's also wireless from fixed towers: they're using that technology in the EspaƱola Valley. But Los Alamos should be looking at fiber to the home. Redinet, LA Public Schools and the County IT already have fiber, so we should start by expanding that.

What about 5G, like on mobile phones? High speed 5G goes only short distances, so it requires towers very close together. Around here, if your phone says "5G" it's probably low-band 5G, using the same towers that are used for 4G. Don't get your hopes up for high-speed 5G here any time soon.

The middle mile and last mile work need to progress simultaneously. But how should we fund it?

At the federal level, there's BEAD: Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment. New Mexico's share is $133M. But it's hard for Los Alamos to qualify; we're better off than more rural parts of the state. There's other broadband funding from USDA, NTIA, Commerce, Treasury and the FCC.

There's also $70M of state money, maybe more. We'll need a combination of federal, state and local funding.

Smith discussed some of the broadband legislation that New Mexico passed in 2021: HB10, which our Rep. Chandler cosponsored, and SB93, plus SB377 which created that $70M of broadband infrastructure funding already mentioned. In 2022, they passed Rep. Chandler's HJR01, which proposes an exception to the Anti-Donation Clause in the state constitution to make it easier for the state to partner with private companies for infrastructure improvements. It will be on our fall ballot, and Smith hopes the LWV will advocate for it.

Smith's work is ramping up. On the last mile, he just got a proposal approved by Council to take a county plan from ten years ago and work with a broadband consulting company to update it on a 9 month timeline. We should see surveys soon. The goal is to have an RFP in time to be "shovel ready" when it's time to apply for grants.

On the middle mile, he's talking with Santa Fe County, San Ildefonso Pueblo, LANL and PNM regarding getting a second internet feed off the hill. He expects LANet will have a role to play in the middle mile, and maybe in the last mile as well.

There were questions about the ownership of our current link off the hill (Lumen, another name for CenturyLink); what speeds Los Alamos residents currently see (the last study was ten years ago, it's probably changed, but we need a study to find out); how residents can help (there might be a citizens' advisory committee formed at some point); how quickly we need to act to get state or federal funds (Smith predicts it'll be a year before the federal funds are even accepting applications, but the state is already busy and might be open for applications as soon as April, and it's not clear how we can act that fast).

The final question was whether details of current providers -- particularly what speeds people are seeing and what they're paying -- could be made available for residents, especially newcomers, to comparison shop. Smith said the surveys done by the consultants will be publicly available. There are a lot of anecdotes, but we need real data, and maybe user reviews too.

Tags: ,
[ 17:43 Apr 09, 2022    More tech | permalink to this entry | ]

Comments via Disqus:

blog comments powered by Disqus