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:
- 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?