The effort to get better broadband access in Los Alamos County needs community input now. Please show up at the next County Council meeting in person or via the link. The meeting starts at 6:00 PM on Tuesday June 28, and the presentation “Community Broadband Network Study Progress Update” is item B on the agenda.
- Ultimately I want Los Alamos County to own communication infrastructure (fiber).
- However in the interim and even if we never own such infrastructure, I want County staff to be responsible for supporting access to affordable high quality broadband by members of the community.
Yesterday Akkana Peck alerted me by email that Jerry Smith, the County Broadband Manager, will make his presentation to the County Council this week. You can see the slides here and a draft of a survey for the community is here. Akkana’s email noted that Mr. Smith’s slides may overestimate what’s available in the County, and they suggest a reduced interest in County owned fiber. I share her concerns.
While members of the community can influence the future of broadband in Los Alamos by contacting the Council at firstname.lastname@example.org, the survey may be more important. The ISP (Internet Service Provider) business intersects with other electronic communication (cell phone, land line, TV, etc.) and content businesses. The survey should touch on all of that. I believe the goals of the survey are: Find out what electronic communication people are using now; Find out what they use it for; Find out what the County can/should do to help; Get people thinking about what the County can/should do to help.
Here are some thoughts about each of those goals:
* Find out what electronic communication people are using now.
Questions 3 and 5 of the draft ask who is your primary ISP and what do you pay. We should find out about the whole electronic communication business in the County: Broadband; Cell Phone; TV; Streaming Content; Newspaper and Information Service Subscriptions; etc. In addition to price, we should ask about the quality of service. I believe that I have used four different ISPs in the 17 years I’ve lived in Los Alamos. In each case: I got speed test results that fluctuated over the course of each day; The service sometimes stopped entirely; And with the exception of LA-Net, contacting customer service was difficult and unpleasant.
I know of families that drop service every year and have a different family member restart it with a new name to get introductory pricing. As a consumer, I find it difficult to discover the availability and pricing of broadband service. I would like for the County to post such information. We could use this survey to get started on that.
From anywhere else I access my home network on LA-Net via home.fraserphysics.com. That would violate the terms of service of some other ISPs. I know others use techniques to watch some content in violation of their terms of service. The survey should ask if people find their terms of service onerous and if they honor them.
* Find out what they use it for.
Question 6 asks if the ISP fee includes TV and/or phone, and question 7 asks about several use purposes. While the questions are adequate, I feel they miss some cases. For example, I know people who use the Internet to work (mostly writing code) either for a single employer or on contracts thousands of miles away. And although I’m retired, I’m working on a technical book and attending technical meetings (in person and remotely). Scientists rely on the Internet almost continuously for information. The options in question 7., “Connecting to work” or “Running a home business”, don’t seem to fit. I think “Professional activity” is a better description. And of course there should be a place to say that one operates a blog.
* Find out what the County can/should do to help.
While I want the County to install fiber to the premises, there are other needs. In particular, I noticed during remote Council meetings, that at least one Councilor said that the poor quality of the connection was due to weak infrastructure at home. We should think about how to help people with their home networks.
* Get people thinking about what the County can/should do to help.
I have neighbors who oppose any County involvement in broadband. One opposes government in general, and the other thinks he’s getting a great deal from Xfinity. The survey should ensure that such views are easy to express.
I (an unbiased former Chair of the Board of Public Utilities) think that the County does a good job delivering the other (not broadband) utilities. The survey should ask people to compare the quality of service from the County DPU to the service that they get from their ISP.
Other utilities in the US are either government owned (like our DPU) or regulated as monopolies. The survey should ask if people agree that broadband is a utility, and then ask if it should be: 1. Owned by government; 2. Regulated as a utility; 3. Be subject to market competition; 4. None of the above (the current situation).