BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos resident Andrew Fraser wants Los Alamos County to own the fiber he believes will eventually run throughout the County. Fraser has been leading in a local push for broadband service along with a group of residents.
A key element of the push is an open letter to the Los Alamos County Council at https://www.blabnow.blog/petition/. Comments of the 185 signers give some insight into what different areas of the community are experiencing and what improvements they feel are needed.
Fraser told the Los Alamos Reporter he has been a fan of what the technology can do since the 1980s.
“I came here in 2005 and in 2010 out of the blue I got a survey call from an outfit that had been hired by the County and they asked if I would support and use a County-owned internet broadband service. They said roughly the structure would be that the County would own the mechanism for connecting and they would leave it open to cable TV offers or anyone else who wanted to use it. I was very excited because that’s what I thought was exactly the right model that we should have communication infrastructure that is not involved in content,” he said.
Since then he has followed the issue and lobbied the Council to move the broadband project forward. He said the County has gone through many iterations of studying the issue and not moving ahead with it. He believes with the pandemic, it’s the right time to push the issue again. With the broadband issue again on the County Council agenda for Tuesday evening’s virtual meeting, Fraser is urging the community to let Council have their feedback.
Multiple studies of broadband have been conducted in Los Alamos County since 1996. Allies have emailed Fraser copies of some of the previous studies, and he has posted them at https://www.blabnow.blog/previous-studies/. The most recent study, completed in 2013, provided detail plans including where fiber would go in the County, where buildings would be built.
“It was a complete plan and the price tag was $61 million. Council decided that amount was too high and dropped the issue,” he said.
Not surprisingly the uses of broadband capacity and the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that the infrastructure currently in place is inadequate.
“Councilors need to hear that there are a lot people who want the Council to help us with broadband here. People want the County to be involved in it. I believe that the best solution is for the County to execute something like that plan from 2013. My particular solution is for the County to set up a county-owned utility that makes fiber available to every home and business in the County. We shouldn’t force it on people who don’t want it, but it should be available for anyone who wants it just like telephone service used to be,” Fraser said.
He said if the County doesn’t own the service, the community is going to be at the mercy of Comcast or Century Link or some other unregulated monopoly and he doesn’t want that.
“We want the citizens to contact the County and say please address our weak broadband situation. It’s not as important for them to say exactly what the solution should be. The Council hopefully will take my advice about exactly what to do. They’re going to have to spend some money and some time and figure out what the right thing to do is on their own,” Fraser said.
He cited a 2003-2004 time frame study led by the Department of Public Utilities.
“I believe the analysis at the time was that it was inappropriate for DPU to be spending money putting any effort into a utility that’s not mandated by the County Charter. So the folks moved to the IT Department which was led by Laura Gonzales, who became an expert. She really understood all the issues. I believe since Laura left there has been nobody at the County who understands these issues,” Fraser said.
He believes the first thing the County needs is expertise.
“I have talked to Council Chair Randy Ryti and Councilor Sean Williams and they seem to think we should just put in a fiber plant. If we put in a fiber plant we are going to need staff that understands it. The Council should direct staff to develop and maintain knowledge and expertise about the infrastructure, technology and business of electronic communication in the County,” Fraser said. “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.”
To chart a path forward, Fraser proposes accepting as the goal communication utilities in the County that are useful, appropriate, efficient, equitable, responsive and foresighted. He said to have power to move towards that goal, the County must have some control of communication utilities here. He said even though the County can use ownership of rights of way and electric utility infrastructure to exert some level of influence over other actors, he believes 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.
Fraser and others pursuing a broadband solution believe that broadband connections in the County 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 have poor ISP options because of failures at the federal level. However, because Los Alamos County owns the poles and conduits that companies use to deliver TV, telephone and Internet, we have an advantage over other communities in circumventing failures at the national level,” he said.
Members of the public may view the Council meeting Tuesday and comment via Zoom by pasting into their browser the following: https://zoom.us/j/98747845185https://zoom.us/j/98747845185 once the session has started, or by telephone: US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 669 900 6833 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 929 205 6099. The Webinar ID is 987 4784 5185.