BY ANDREW FRASER
Editor’s note: Andew Fraser has published a petition at http://www.blabnow.blog/petition/ and invites Los Alamos County residents to sign it.
In this open letter we ask that the Council make access to broadband for residents of the County a priority.
Living with the ongoing pandemic we find ourselves reliant on the Internet for many aspects of life including employment, education, social connections and entertainment. 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.
We acknowledge that Los Alamos County is not unique in having bad access to broadband. We recommend the podcast by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Why Does My Internet Suck? which explains the situation in the United States, namely:
- ISPs in the United States generally offer lower data rates at higher prices than service available in much of the rest of the developed world.
- Most ISPs in the US are regional monopolies.
- The choices that American policymakers and tech companies have made have ended up limiting access to reliable broadband.
As the podcast explains, like most Americans, 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 in circumventing failures at the national level.
We are pleased that broadband was discussed at two recent County Council meetings in the following agenda items:
October 27 work session: Discussion of Broadband presented by Steven Lynne, Deputy County Manager, at the request of Councilor Randall Ryti. In watching this meeting, one discovers that neither County Staff nor Council deeply understands the broadband issues in the County. Mr. Lynne observed that Council has indicated that broadband is not a priority issue.
November 17 regular session: Presentation by Kelly Beierschmitt, Deputy Director, Operations, Los Alamos National Laboratory . At this meeting Dr. Beierschmitt said that LANL plans to support having staff work remotely, and those arrangements will continue after the pandemic passes. He described in particular LANL plans to support access from Espanola.
In summary, this is the situation:
- The pandemic has showcased the importance of broadband access.
- Broadband access in Los Alamos County is not satisfactory. The offerings are poor compared to those in much of the rest of the developed world.
- Much of the rest of America also suffers the same inadequacies because of failures at the federal level.
- Because Los Alamos County already owns the right of way and much of the infrastructure necessary for and used by communications utilities, Council is in a much better position to address the inadequacies than leaders in most other communities. Like Los Alamos, Chattanooga owns the local electric utility, and they have used that advantage to offer 300Mbps up and down to homes in the city for $58/month.
And here are the County Council actions we suggest:
- Council will be setting priorities at Jan 12, 2021 meeting. At that meeting establish broadband access in the County as a priority.
- Direct County staff to develop and maintain expert knowledge about broadband in the County. The areas of expertise should include
- What ISPs currently operate in the County?
- What do those ISPs offer?
- Which ISPs are residents of the County currently using? What level of service are they paying for? And what is the quality of the service they get?
- What technology are ISPs using and how do they connect off of the hill?
- What organizational structures could the County use to deliver broadband?
- What technologies could the County use to deliver broadband?
- How could a County owned ISP connect off of the hill?
- Explore jointly investigating the questions in the previous item with LANL.
- Explore collaborations with ISPs that currently operate in the County.
- Find out how other communities are providing broadband. A quick search yields a map that “tracks a variety of ways in which local governments have invested in wired telecommunications”.