Los Alamos County Broadband Manager Jerry Smith/Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Jerry Smith has joined Los Alamos County in the new position of Broadband Manager. Smith has been in involved in Information Technology for many years including as IT Director for 15 years for a public school outside Forth Worth, Tex.
“That’s where I got the connection to public schools and my wife, also is an educator and currently works for Albuquerque Public Schools as a high school librarian. We are very attached to the public education system, so it was natural for me to go back to that after working for a non-profit here in New Mexico for a few years,” Smith said. “I worked for Glorieta Adventure Camps near Santa Fe for a few years. That was basically a dream job and I got to support three different locations that they had and Glorieta ended up being the headquarters.”
He went on from there to Albuquerque to work for the state supporting schools through the Public School Facilities Authority, an agency that was created as a result of a law suit that determined that school facilities were not equal across the state.
“About seven years ago, they created the Broadband Department so I was working with IT directors in the schools closely to help coordinate and make sure that they were taking full advantage of federal funding. The program is called E-Rate and it helps schools get their internal networks and also internet service to the schools. I was very familiar with that, having worked in Texas with that program,” Smith said.
One of his projects was doing regional networks of schools, connecting several smaller school districts together in the state.
“The next stage of that was the State Education Network and Phase 1 of that is actually just happening right now – connecting all the schools – and when I left, that project was under procurement,” Smith said.
Asked what appealed to him about coming to work for Los Alamos County, Smith said to him it was the next phase of his focus on broadband. He said schools have made a lot of good progress with broadband in New Mexico with all but one or two of them connected via fiber optic.
“Schools were in relatively good shape compared to home connectivity. I was focused on this before COVID but COVID has actually brought out the dire need that families have to be able to have strong connectivity in order to participate in the educational system,” he said. “Also, the current economy is so internet-based so that to really compete and operate in today’s economy, you need strong connectivity. To me, it was just the next phase. I was motivated to do more for New Mexico and Los Alamos was the opportunity that really came up first.”
Smith commended Los Alamos County for recognizing and acknowledging the need to step up and be responsible for helping put the improvements in place to get better connectivity to homes and businesses moving forward.
“Los Alamos County is one of the first counties acknowledging that to the point of hiring a broadband manager,” he said. “I hope that other counties are able to find resources to take advantage of federal funding that’s available.”
Smith mentioned a group of state legislators, often called the “Ladies of Eight”, that includes Rep. Christine Chandler, which has been actively working on the broadband issue for the last couple of years.
“They’ve brought the broadband conversation to the forefront for the state and given it high value. I know they’re continuing to work on legislative updates this session,” he said.
Asked what he thinks is the first move in terms of forging ahead with broadband for Los Alamos County, Smith that it would be understanding what the County Council has in mind and then what the community is telling them.
“There seems to be a pretty clear message already that improvements are needed but I have to defer and say I’ll be taking that direction from the Council. What I would be proposing would be updating an old study at minimal effort because the previous study done is mostly valid, and then moving forward with the Council to secure funding and evaluate all the funding sources, and then presenting our options and recommendations to the Council about the various paths,” Smith said. “One of the strong contenders would be providing fiber optic cable to all homes and businesses and the Council has been clear in comments they’ve made leading up to now that that’s what they have in mind. There are other alternative technologies to consider alongside it, but typically fiber optic is the best investment over the long term.”
He said one of the things he tries to communicate is that there is an urgency about broadband access and expansion task and the funding that is available now is a once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone including Los Alamos County.
“It’s now time for action and we are working closely with others in the region to take advantage of working together with those that are around us to see what can be done together and then there’s going to be some work that we’ll have to do on our own in the County,” Smith said.
He is looking forward to working with Matt Schmit, the new Broadband Advisor for the state Office of Broadband Access and Expansion. He said Schmit, who is new on the scene in New Mexico, brings good experience from his previous roles.
“There’s a big need for coordination at the state level because a lot of the funding is going to come through that office,” Smith said.