Keep Broadband As Council Strategic Priority And Expand It To Include Telecommunication In General

BY ANDREW FRASER
Los Alamos

The only business on the agenda for the County Council meeting on Tuesday January 10 is “2023 Strategic Priorities Discussion”.

In previous years, formal actions in February followed the early January discussions.  The “2022 Strategic Leadership Plan” attached to the agenda lists the seven priorities adopted by the Council in February of 2022.  One of those priorities is “Improving access to high quality broadband”.

I ask that Council keep the broadband priority and expand it to include telecommunication in general.  The broad County telecommunication outage on December 11 demonstrated that the telecom utilities used by many residents are inadequate.  At our house, we rely on LANet and Google Fi for telecom.  That Sunday we couldn’t make phone calls or access any information about the outage from home.  We drove to Ashley Pond and connected to WiFi there.  With that connection, we could phone family and access the Internet.  My wife, Marguerite, found a note on the LANet Facebook site saying that a failure on the Lumen network was causing the problems.  Neither LosAlamos County nor the two local newspapers had any information about the outage.

I’ve been following the telecom issue for a few years and collecting hearsay about the utilities in the County.  I believe that WiFi at the pond worked because it is on the County network which uses a microwave link over the Rio Grande and San Ildefonso Pueblo to connect to REDINET.  I suspected (correctly) that a failure of a fiber link owned by Lumen that crosses the Rio Grande at Buckman caused the outage.

There’s more that I don’t know about the outage than I do know.  I know that if I had wanted to call a Doctor that Sunday, I would have had to drive to the pond to make the call.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had dialed 911 on my cell phone.  I’ve heard that folks who still use POTS, Plain Old Telephone Service, could call others with the same service in the County.  I suspect that everyone who uses StarLink or Dish for Internet was unaffected (but they couldn’t contact most others in the County).

I am disturbed but not surprised that no one has reported on the incident in enough detail to explain: What services were available and unavailable; Why were particular services affected; How residents should respond next time we have an outage like that; From a Systems perspective (technology, business, and politics) why we are so fragile?  The reason that no one has reported on the incident is that no one is responsible or in charge. My vague answer to the last question is that we are vulnerable here in Los Alamos and in most of the US, because we rely on entertainment companies for telecom (and for news and information).  The profits of those companies depend on engagement, not reliability, or safety, or free speech, etc.

Again, I ask that the County Council keep broadband as a priority for 2023 and to also task the County Staff with understanding the telecom business and infrastructure in the County well enough to anticipate and respond to incidents like the outage in December.