A Night at the County Council

The Motion

I am pleased to report that on Tuesday night Council passed the following motion unanimously:

I move that Council approve grant matching funds to the Pueblo de San Ildefonso for their grant application in the amount of $2,000,000 (two million) for a New Middle Mile Fiber Optic Line Connecting White Rock to Pojoaque contingent upon execution and approval of a written agreement with the Pueblo de San Ildefonso by May 31, 2024. I further move Council authorize the County Manager to sign and submit a letter of support (Attachment A) to be included with the grant application materials.

My Questions

By the time I read my prepared statement during public comments there had already been the Staff presentation and Councilors questions. So some of what I read had been rendered redundant. My statement was essentially the letter to Council that I reported in my previous blog post but boiled down to fit in three minutes. Here I will rephrase those questions again and give what I believe are the answers. The answers are my own based on a mix of searching the Internet, conversations, and surmise from listening to the discussion at the Council meeting. Some of the answers depend on an agreement between the County and the Pueblo that will only be completed if the Pueblo is awarded the grant.

What will the County pay and what will it get?

We will pay $4.4M and get access to 24 strands of dark fiber that run from White Rock to a REDINET node in Pojoaque. We will have access to that fiber for 20 years and then have a specific option for the following 20 years.

What would we use the proposed link for besides the CBN?

Los Alamos County uses the Lumen fiber that crosses the Rio Grande at Buckman as its primary path off the hill for its own traffic which already runs mostly on fiber inside the County. In the last year or so, Lumen has added a back up microwave link from Los Alamos to its hub in Santa Fe. That redundant low capacity link was on the drawing board but not in place for the December 2022 outage. During that outage, the County used an old REDINET microwave link to Pojoaque to stay connected. While I believe that the proposed fiber to Pojoaque would immediately become the County’s primary link off of the hill, I surmise that we would not sell access to our link to other customers such as LANL and LA-NET because that would compete with some of the ways the Pueblo hopes to use the remaining 120 fiber strands.

Is the capacity of the proposed link big enough?

Briefly yes. Right now off the shelf routers for lighting up dark fiber have the following capacities:

  • 10G Legacy
  • 40G Common for recent upgrades
  • 100G Widely used for new networks
  • 400G Expensive leading edge for now

Jerry Smith has told me that the CBN RFP suggested vendors propose initially serving 6,000 customers. Since ISPs in the County only offer 100M connections at premium prices, I think the extreme worst case for initial demand would be 6k *100M = 600G  bits per second or 6 of the 24 fibers using current off the shelf 100G technology.

Can we easily upgrade the capacity of the link?

Briefly yes. The fiber itself has enormous capacity. We can exploit improvements in the technology of off the shelf electronics for connecting to the fiber as they come to market and as our needs increase.

Is The Lab going to use any of San Ildefonso’s fiber strands?

I suspect that the Pueblo will pursue that.

Can other telecom businesses use the link as back-up to help them prevent outages like December 2022?

I think that’s an option that will be negotiated between them and the Pueblo. Note that no law or regulation requires those businesses to provide any level of robustness for public safety.

Side Conversations

Before the meeting started, I spoke to Alvin Leaphart, the County Attorney, and Jerry Smith introduced me to Peter Fant from San Ildefonso Services, Eric Moores from the NM Office of Broadband Access & Expansion, and Jerrold Baca from REDINET. Here are bits of what I learned from them:

County Attorney, Alvin Leaphart

Mr. Leaphart acknowledged the challenge of negotiating an agreement1 with the Sovereign Pueblo. He says that it’s been done before, but he hasn’t done such an agreement himself. Before anyone starts building the proposed link from White Rock to Pojoaque, we will need formal agreements, and the exact details of those agreements don’t exist yet.

Peter Fant, San Ildefonso Services

I overheard Mr. Fant talking about the Lumen link that runs under the Rio Grande at Buckman. Roughly, the phone company negotiated something like an easement from the Pueblo when they first ran copper lines up the hill. The easement has a very long duration and its terms let the phone company upgrade to fiber. Because the Pueblo was unhappy about that, the deal for the new fiber from White Rock to Pojoaque will be only a 20 year lease with an option for a 20 year renewal, and the Pueblo will own the conduit and fiber.

Eric Moores, NM Office of Broadband Access & Expansion

I asked Mr. Moores who will decide what grant proposals get funded. It will be a panel of NM employees, and he emphasized that the panel is anonymous and he’s not on it.

Council Increased the Proposed Match

After Councilor Hand moved to approve the $1.8M match (as suggested in the agenda) for the Pueblo’s grant application, Councilor Havemann said that she wanted to approve more to increase the chances of the Pueblo getting the grant. I’ve forgotten exactly what happened after that, but another Councilor suggested going for up to $3M. After consulting with County Manager Laurent and Attorney Leaphart, they settled on approving a $2M match, and the motion passed unanimously.

There were three public comments and all supported the item: 1. Peter Fant representing the Pueblo. 2. Jerrold Baca from REDINET. 3. Me.

To summarize what I learned at the meeting on Tuesday:

  • This Council’s support for CBN (which I would call Better Los Alamos Broadband or BLAB) is strong and unanimous.
  • At the meeting on Tuesday this Council used time more efficiently than I’ve seen at meetings of previous Councils.

  1. Mr. Leaphart did not compare A Night at the County Council to A Night at the Opera 

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