Paths Forward

Broadband is on the agenda for the April 6 County Council meeting, and I bet the County Council will approve a motion to study the issue. As revealed by the discussion of broadband at the October 27 Council Work Session, some study to develop the expertise and understanding of County Staff and Council would be good. As part of an email conversation about the upcoming meeting and a likely new study, I got copies of old studies from Laura Gonzales who retired from the County IT department several years ago. In view of the volume of that material I recommend restraint in commissioning yet another study by outside consultants. Instead, Council should direct Staff to develop and maintain knowledge and expertise about the infrastructure, technology and business of electronic communication in the County. Given the importance of electronic communication in the 21st century for everything from employment and education to entertainment and social cohesion, such expertise is appropriate for any local government. It is particularly appropriate for Los Alamos because of our status as a high-tech leader and because through our ownership of our other utilities we own the paths for distributing electronic communication.

To chart a path forward I propose accepting as the goal communication utilities in the County that are useful, appropriate, efficient, equitable, responsive and foresighted. In order to have power to move towards that goal, the County must have some control of communication utilities here. While we can use our ownership of rights of way and electric utility infrastructure to exert some level of influence over other actors, eg, through franchise agreements, I believe that owning and operating a communication utility based on optical fiber is the best mechanism for delivering the required product and having the necessary control.

No matter how the County chooses to exercise influence or control over communication utilities here, staff will need knowledge and expertise in the area. We should begin by understanding the current state of affairs. Staff and Council should understand and be able to weigh technical and business alternatives and their impact on other values, eg, free speech, economic productivity, intellectual development, social cohesion, equity, and support of innovation.

Electronic communication is more fungible now that it was when everyone thought NBC, ATT and the Post Office were in different markets that addressed different needs. Because of that fungibility, we need expertise that touches on at least the following current businesses:

  • Internet
  • Landline telephone
  • Cell phone
  • TV (cable, satellite, etc.)

For each seller in our market we should know:

  • What they offer to our residents (technical characteristics of utility, eg, data rate, latency, reliability)
  • The technology that they use to deliver those services (eg, how they “get off of the hill”)
  • The pricing available
  • How much revenue are they collecting in the County

For each customer in the County we should find out the corresponding data:

  • What are they buying including technical characteristics
  • At what price

We should also understand how the County is currently supporting and using the communication utilities that operate here already.

We should understand the legal constraints on County participation in the business. Because we own and operate our other utilities, I believe that we are not treated like investor owned utilities by the NM PRC. Would the County see similar advantages if we operated a communication utility?

And ultimately we must understand the technical, business, organizational and legal options for the County to own and operate an electronic communication utility.

Other Thoughts and Questions

I believe that eventually we will have fiber running throughout the County.  I want the County to own that fiber, and I support any action that will get us there faster and more certainly.

As the County learns about the current state of electronic communication in the County, making that knowledge available to the public will be a great service. Because the business is unregulated, residents currently have trouble discovering their options.

I would like to know why Internet signals from LANL to my house get routed through California. It makes working from home difficult.

I believe that signals between residences and the schools are similarly routed off the hill and back. Is that the case, and if so, why?

Why do the existing communication utilities have equipment on poles that the DPU has abandoned?

Why is the location of Xfinity cables not available in advance of digging as part of the location service provided by the DPU?

I believe that the existing communication utilities use Century-Link fiber to get off of the hill. Is that true? If so, why are we waiting for a second Century-Link fiber to cross the Rio Grande?


How Much Money is at Stake?

Because broadband is on the agenda for the April 6 County Council meeting, I’m thinking and writing about the issue again. Los Alamos County has spent a lot of Council and Staff effort and some money studying and talking about the communication business here since the 1990s.   Over several years I’ve read a few sources about the communication business, and recently I did some searching as I set up this blog.  I’ve found that people are saying that in the United States we are paying more for worse service than much of the rest of the world because each region is served by unregulated monopolies.  In other words we are being charged monopoly rents. However, I have not seen a serious study that estimates the amount of those rents. I contacted two experts, Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance and Professor Susan Crawford at the Harvard Law School, and asked how to estimate those rents in Los Alamos County. They each
suggested that I contact Joanne Hovis at CTC (  Here are replies from Dr. Hovis to a couple of emails:

Hi Andy:

I wish I had a resource to which I could direct you but I don’t
know that anyone has done that analysis. It would be a valuable
contribution to the field if it were undertaken.



I appreciate you thinking of us, but I would recommend you speak to an economist on that. I suspect their work would be more persuasive on that kind of issue than that of a consultant like us.


So CTC has experience and expertise on technology, but not economics or business.

It would be nice to have an estimate of the monopoly rents that we as a community are paying because that amount is the floor for what we should spend to get better service.


State of New Mexico Broadband Strategic Plan

Item 11 E. 1 on the agenda for the County Council meeting tonight is ” Review and Consideration of Approval of Council’s Draft Updated Strategic Leadership Plan for 2021.”  Attachment A on that agenda item is a draft of the plan, and it includes a broadband priority area with the following text:

Improving access to high quality broadband.
Enabling reliable high-speed broadband service throughout the county by determining appropriate investments (e.g., conduct a community needs analysis, evaluate technical options).

That is the first action we suggested in our open letter. The next action we suggested is “Direct County staff to develop and maintain expert knowledge about broadband in the County.”  While the parenthetical note in the description of the priority area seems consistent with our second action, the note does not propose the thorough analysis of the current status that we recommend.  Neither does it propose the evaluation of organizational/business options that we recommend.

To find out how other communities have developed that kind of expertise, I sent email to Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance and Professor Susan Crawford at the Harvard Law School. Independently they both directed me to CTC Technology and Energy.  I just sent email to Joanne Hovis at CTC asking for advice.

Professor Crawford gave me a link to the CTC study State of New Mexico Broadband Strategic Plan and Rural Broadband Assessment, and I skimmed it last night. I recommend Section 6 “Framework for
Broadband Public-Private Collaboration” which starts on page 100. It outlines the following three options: 1. Public-Private Collaboration; 2. Community Infrastructure and Outsourced ISP Operations; 3. Community Infrastructure and ISP Operations. I also recommend Section 3.3.3 of the report, “Wireless cost considerations” which starts on page 90.  It confirms what others have said here about the advantages of fiber over wireless.

If there are other studies that we should link to, please let me know in the comments here.


First Success

The only business item on the agenda for the Los Alamos County Council meeting on January 12 was “2021 Strategic Priorities Discussion”.  There were no formal motions or votes at the meeting. Councilor Scott will present a summary of the discussions at the January 26 meeting when I believe they will formally adopt priorities. There was consensus that there should be no more than seven priorities and that broadband should be a priority.  At the meeting, Councilor Williams was the strongest advocate for broadband followed by Ryti and Derkacs.  All of the other Councilors agreed that broadband should be a priority.

I made a brief statement at the beginning of the meeting which I will
append to this post.

In addition to apparent success in persuading the Council to take the
first action we suggested in our open letter, I was pleased that the discussion at the Council meeting seemed to recognize that it is a mistake to let an unregulated private enterprise own communication infrastructure that confers a natural monopoly.

Now I’m considering next steps. It seems Council is going to take the first action we suggested in our open letter. Should we continue
organizing and advocating for the other four actions? If you have
ideas, please post them as comments here.

My comments at the 2021-1-12 Los Alamos County Council Meeting:

I own the site blabnow.bolg (Better Los Alamos Broadband NOW). I believe that I’ve written to you three times myself and spoken to you once.

I’m pleased to see that you are going to talk about broadband tonight.  I ask that you make broadband a priority now. I’d like to make two points about timeliness:

1. When the pandemic passes the urgency of broadband will not go back to the status quo ante. We have all learned new habits and skills. I remind you that in his fall presentation Dr. Beierschmitt said that LANL will continue developing support for remote access after the pandemic passes.

2. You should not wait for a second CenturyLink fiber link into the County before planning and acting. That’s just an excuse for delay.

In looking at your attachment H “Broadband Overview”. I suggest that you act on most of the points.

1. I would combine the point on cost estimates with assessment of new technologies

2. I would modify the “Possible survey” point to focus on measuring
and understanding the current technology and business of communication more broadly in the County.


A Critical Council Meeting



I emailed our open letter to the new County Council on Sunday January 3rd. At that time we had 177 signatures. I followed up with a brief statement at their first meeting on Tuesday January 5th.

The County Council will discuss priorities for 2021 at their meeting on Tuesday January 12th.

Letters to the Council,, before that meeting will be particularly effective. I recommend explaining how better Los Alamos broadband would improve life in the County, eg, professional productivity, effectiveness of education, and social/family cohesion. As you write, remember the platitude about honey and vinegar. However, given social distancing rules, Ogden Nash’s thoughts on candy and liquor are not appropriate now.

Since some Councilors may suggest waiting years to address broadband until after CenturyLink strings a second fiber link across the Rio Grande for LANL, I recommend you tell the Council you want them to act now.

I will attend the meeting via zoom. I’ve attended such meetings in person in other years. It’s a good chance to see the Councilors talk about what they think is important.

Here is the statement that I made to the Council at their meeting January 5th:

Hello, My name is Andrew Fraser. I live at 197 Taos Street in Los Alamos.

On Sunday, I sent an open letter to the Council that has been signed by 175 residents of Los Alamos County asking you for help with broadband. Here are 3 key points in that letter:

1. We find both that our broadband connections are inadequate and that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) available in the County offer various combinations of high prices, hostile customer service and low data rates.

2. We have poor ISP options because of failures at the federal
level. However, because Los Alamos County owns the poles and conduits that Century-Link, Xfinity, etc. use to deliver TV, telephone and Internet, we have an advantage over other communities in circumventing failures at the national level.

3. Council will be setting priorities at its Jan 12, 2021 meeting. At that meeting we ask that you establish broadband access in the County as a priority.

Now, as you investigate options, I suggest that you keep in mind that the error we’ve made in America is to treat broadband differently from other utilities and natural monopolies. It is neither regulated as a utility nor owned by the State (or in our case the County as the other utilities are here.) To address that failure, the Council should make sure that the County owns any infrastructure that would confer monopoly power over broadband communication in Los Alamos.

Thank you for your attention.



I have waited till the new year to contact the Council because the
newly elected Councilors take office on January first. Yesterday I
talked to Randall Ryti, the Vice Chair of the County Council. He says that the Council will have an infrastructure priority in 2021. I told him that ultimately I want the County to own any communication infrastructure that constitutes a natural monopoly. I believe that optical fiber that runs to every neighborhood in the County will be the key piece of such infrastructure. I also said that my short term goal and the request in our open letter is more modest. We simply ask that the County Council make Better Los Alamos Broadband a priority NOW (BLABNOW). I also talked with Councilor Ryti about how to effectively communicate with Councilors. I hope they all appreciate that I did not set up the WordPress petition software to send new email to the Council each time someone signed the open letter. Here is my current plan:

  • Friday January 1: Send email to those who signed the open letter with a link to this blog posting. I will suggest that email from individuals to the council will be particularly effective before the Council meeting on January 12, and that I’d like additional signatures before the 3rd when I will incorporate the signatures into the letter.
  • Sunday January 3: Send our open letter to the new Council.
  • Tuesday January 5: Make a public comment at the beginning of the virtual Council meeting.
  • Tuesday January 12: Attend the virtual Council meeting. At that crucial meeting, they will talk about priorities for 2021.

Progress (92 Signatures)

After launching this site Friday evening 12/5, I tested the SpeakOut! plugin for petitions by signing the open letter myself, and I sent email to Barbara Calef asking her to look over the open letter and test the comment function. Barbara signed the open letter Saturday morning and posted the first comment on the blog. I thank her for helping.

On Saturday 12/6, I collected a list of 70 email addresses of Los
Alamos residents by going through my address book and my old email.   I excluded friends who I suspected would not want to sign the open letter. In the evening, I sent email to those addresses asking people to look at the open letter and consider signing it. By the end of the day, we had 10 signatures.

In the morning of Sunday 12/6 I contacted both the Los Alamos Daily Post and the Los Alamos Reporter to ask if they would post something about the BLABNOW effort.

By midday Sunday we had 25 signatures, and I got a call about the open letter from Councilor David Izraelevitz. After that John Pearson (Signature #9) called and asked how many signatures we’d need to get the attention of the County Council. I told John that the evidence showed 25 signatures got the attention of one Councilor. John wondered if we’d need 175 signatures to get the attention of all 7 Councilors. I’ve known John since the 1980s when we studied nonlinear dynamics at the University of Texas.

Also on midday Sunday, the Los Alamos Reporter published our complete open letter with a link to our website for collecting signatures.

At the end of the day Sunday we had 53 signatures.

At the end of Monday 12/7 we had 73 signatures including leaders in the community and at LANL such as Pieter Swart, a LANL Group Leader. Swart’s comment highlights the importance of reliable residential broadband for productivity at LANL.

I’ve heard from two people who’ve had trouble signing the open letter.  Apparently LANL blocks our site, and an early signer told me that after her first signature simply never appeared, she signed again.  This technology is new for me, and so far I don’t know how to address these problems.

I am pleased with the response here. When I set up the petition, the SpeakOut! software offered to display a progress bar showing fractional progress towards a goal. I didn’t know what goal to set.  I thought 50 might be too optimistic. As I am writing this post we’ve moved from 75 signatures to 92. Less than half of the names are from the list of 70 people I contacted directly, and I recognize names of community leaders whom I have not yet met.

Thank you for supporting BLABNOW. Please tell others about the site.



First Blog Post

Hello, I (Andy Fraser) am launching this site today. The purpose of the site is to make better Internet service available to residents of Los Alamos County.

To start off, I have written an open letter to the County Council that primarily asks that they make residential broadband a priority. The Council will have a meeting on January 12, 2021 at which they will establish priorities for the year. So it’s important to collect signatures before that meeting. Please click the link and sign the letter.

I don’t have any previous experience organizing advocacy. So I welcome advice on advocacy in the comments here.

Also, I welcome advice or help with the technology. I am using the WordPress Content Management System to manage/publish the site, and I started learning how to use WordPress this week. I installed it on my home workstation to practice before getting a public site at dreamhost.

(To see the comments or to write one, click on the little “# Comments” link next to the date near the top of this page.)