Broadband to boost LA economy

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By Kirsten Laskey

Four counties, including Los Alamos, three municipalities, six tribes and 415 community anchor institutions are forging their mark on the high-speed Internet map.
A $10.6 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will provide broadband services in the Regional Economic Development Initiative or REDI. Los Alamos County, Rio Arriba County, the City of Española, Santa Fe County, the City of Santa Fe, Taos County and Town of Taos are part of the initiative.
REDI Net or Northern Regional Economic Development Initiative, along with Kit Carson Electric and the Santa Fe Regional Telecom Coalition, are members of REDI Open Networks. They will provide high-speed bandwidth to community anchor institutions and last-mile providers, offer multiple options for transport and allow last-mile providers to access new markets.
“This is a middle-mile project,” Laura Gonzales, county IT manager, said, “putting infrastructure between communities and directly to 123 community anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, universities, public safety and libraries and other community government infrastructures. This is a partnerships between tribal, city and county governments and it’s going to be a tremendous benefit because it is going to bring connectivity between communities that either do not have fiber infrastructure or what they do have is too expensive to utilize.”
She said being a middle-mile project means services will not be provided directly to end users such as homes. Only anchor institutions will receive the broadband services. However, end providers can get into the open network and eventually provide that to homes, Gonzales said.
Construction is expected to get started in early 2011. Monica Abeita, REDI program manager, said an environmental assessment needs to be conducted and a contractor should be selected in the next 60 days.
“This is a fiber-optic backbone that is going to start north from Santa Fe, through Tesuque and Pojoaque Pueblos up to Española and then split and go to Los Alamos,” said Ed Burckle, executive director of the Regional Development Corporation. It will provide support in several areas.
Education, which includes distance learning, high-technology and gateways to New Mexico’s supercomputer for colleges
Health care, which involves telemedicine, emergency medical record and patient monitoring; public safety, Radio over Fiber for remote areas, enhanced security and reliability for communications, video streaming and conferencing
Economic development such as high-technology, media and renewable energy, home-based/location neutral businesses and energy such as smart metering, distributed generation, communications network
“Winning this broadband grant is a major shot in the arm for Northern New Mexico … Economic development in the U.S. is done on a regional basis and the broadband grant demonstrates the value of developing regional partnerships,” Burckle said.
Burckle likened broadband to the interstate highway system in the late 1950s and ‘60s. Interstates provided greater access to markets as a speed advantage to communities that were on the roadways.
“A similar condition exists today for communities that have access to broadband,” he said. “This grant should help Northern New Mexico bridge the digital divide we find in the U.S. between urban areas that have access to broadband and largely rural areas that don’t have access to fiber. ”
Abeita said the network will allow people to tap into it at a lower price and competition  should drive prices down. Several counties and agencies made matching contributions, including Los Alamos County. The county provided $400,000 in cash and donated $625,000 in-kind. Abeita said the county already has some  broadband.

Kirsten Laskey can be reached at lareporter@lamonitor.com