County to apply for broadband funding

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By Jennifer Garcia

An item placed on the consent agenda and slated for quick approval was pulled and put on the regular agenda for discussion during Tuesday night’s county council meeting.

Councilor Ralph Phelps pulled the item pertaining to the approval to submit an application for a broadband infrastructure grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for further discussion.

Members of the Regional Economic Development Initiative have identified broadband as northern New Mexico’s number one infrastructure priority.

This year, according to county documents, the seven local governments involved in the REDI, in partnership with tribal governments and community institutions in Northern New Mexico, are developing a plan for deployment of an open, regional broadband network.

The documents further state that under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Service (RUS), which are subcomponents of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the REDI region plans to submit the following applications for broadband federal stimulus funding:

• Santa Fe Regional Telecom Coalition (BTOP),

• San Ildefonso Pueblo/Tewa.com (BIP),

• Kit Carson Electric (BIP),

• and Los Alamos County (BIP).

The document also states that potential BIP applications from Rio Arriba County, the City of Española and adjacent pueblos, based on an ongoing broadband assessment are a possibility.

Los Alamos County is planning to submit a middle mile application that would provide a fiber pathway from the roundabout on Diamond to White Rock, ending at the proposed economic development site.

According to county documents, a breakout point for San Ildefonso and a radio pathway from Los Alamos to Rio Rancho to provide increased bandwidth availability are included. The cost for these pathways is estimated at $3,850,000 including 10 percent contingency.

The design/build of a regional Network Operations Center (NOC) would also be included in the application. In addition, an entrance facility for open network providers could be located on numerous county-owed properties in Los Alamos or White Rock.

The cost for the NOC is estimated at $6,750,000 based on the analysis of the current county building projects in Los Alamos. The facility would also remove the IT staff, central server and central network functions from the new municipal building.

 County IT Manager Laura Gonzales briefed council on the applications process as well as deadlines and the overall plan for broadband infrastructure.

“There are two agencies putting out money for the public. This is over a three-year period, so it could go all the way into FY13,” she said. “San Ildefonso suggested we rent out fiber to the edge of the county and take it down an extra seven miles, to San Ildefonso. The cost for the extra seven miles would be $752,000. That’s something you should consider,” she told council.

Councilor Nona Bowman made clear that she was not happy that this item had been put on the consent agenda.

“I usually don’t do this, but I’m going to say something about it. When we have an issue like this, it should be on the regular agenda,” she said.

In addition, Bowman was unconvinced that spending so much money on broadband was a good idea.

“This won’t just be a big expense to the community now, but also in the future. I’m afraid this technology will be obsolete in a few years. I think everything will go wireless,” she said.

Gonzales assured Bowman that the equipment can be upgraded and speed can also be increased once the infrastructure is in place.

“It’s more reliable than wireless and radio. We’d eventually want to have a fiber pathway all the way to Albuquerque,” Gonzales said.

Councilor Robert Gibson also asked Gonzales a few questions regarding the plan and eventually said, “I don’t know that we know what we’re getting into, but we don’t have a lot of time to figure it out,” he said of the looming August deadline for the application.

Resident Richard Dunn commented on the project, as well. “I usually say slow down (on projects), but I don’t think we have the luxury on this one.”

Concluding discussion of the topic, Council Chair Michael Wheeler said, “We’re committed to doing this. It’s a council goal and this is a good time to do this.”

Councilor Sharon Stover then made a motion, seconded by Gibson that council authorize the submission of an application for a broadband infrastructure grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle offered a friendly amendment but it failed due to lack of a second. Phelps then offered a friendly amendment to apply for a network operations center, fiber backbone, radio link to Rio Rancho and a connection to the San Ildefonso Pueblo.

The amendment was accepted and the motion passed 6-0.