County to facilitate broadband for businesses

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Council > Staff directed to develop implementation plan

By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos County Council continued its discussion on the future of community broadband at Tuesday’s work session, urging staff to develop a plan for utilizing current capabilities to provide service to interested businesses.
 “I certainly want, as quickly as possible, to get existing businesses that want and need this service hooked up,” Councilor Pete Sheehey said. “The nation made an investment in REDI Net. Let’s use it as quickly as possible. I, for one, am certainly willing to spend some county money.”
Funding even this modest goals (as opposed to the original plan to bring a Community Broadband Network to every residence in the county) will be a challenge.
Although REDI Net, a jointly owned broadband infrastructure network for Northern New Mexico, has additional bandwidth available, nodes and fiber must be installed in order to connect businesses. Nodes run $20,000 to $40,000 each. Fiber costs vary, with buried conduits costing roughly $10,000 per mile, less for pole attachment.
Staff suggested using economic development funds, or encouraging private enterprises to build fiber connections from the REDI Net to nodes for businesses.
The latter proposal concerned Vice Chair Kristin Henderson, since those companies would then own the infrastructure they built.
Deputy County Administrator/Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne cautioned against rushing to connect businesses wanting connections now without considering the need for expansion to allow more businesses into the network in the future.
“A near-term, easy-fix solution is probably going to have to leave some flexibility for some other type of growth,” Lynne said.
REDI Net General Manager Duncan Sill suggested one possible source of funding.
“REDI Net is built on the reinvestment model, where the resources that we take in are reinvested back into the local communities,” Sill said. “We’re just beginning to move our operations out of the grant funding phase, but as we move forward, we’re going to have a little more involvement in directing resources.
“There is the potential for investment back into Los Alamos, and if that can couple with the efforts you might direct staff to pursue, there might be a parallel path through which we can put investments back in to benefit these potential businesses.”
That reinvestment would not be an immediate solution. REDI Net has just reached the break-even point where it is no longer in need of federal funding. The organization hopes to start accumulating funds for reinvestment soon.
According to staff, some relatively accessible connections already exist. REDI Net installed a “neighborhood node” at the New Mexico Consortium, and the developer is placing conduit to it so it is ready for businesses that want to connect.
Fiber was installed at Central Park Square when county offices were located there, which could easily be extended to other businesses. Fiber also runs to all the schools in the county.
Lynne and Information Management Manager Laura Gonzales (who also serves as secretary/treasurer for the REDI Net board) urged council to look at not only short-term solutions for connecting local businesses, but also long-term possibilities for building a Community Broadband Network.
With very little county money to invest at this point, staff asked council to accept the Community Broadband Network (CBN) Fiber Pathway Masterplan Map as the master plan for fiber plant build out and to adopt a policy of installing communication infrastructure in accordance with the master plan as funding permits and in coordination with public works and utility projects. The estimated cost would be $150,000 to $300,000 a year.
“Adopting a policy of how we’re going to implement that infrastructure and how we’re going to move forward I think is going to be very important for the county long-term,” Gonzales said, using the example of a White Rock business that may be willing to pay for a fiber connection if the county will help facilitate the project with REDI Net.
“Had we had that long-term plan and put that type of infrastructure in with some of the projects we just did with Parks (and Recreation) here in White Rock, we actually would have had conduit right to where we need it to go. So it’s important to take a real long-term look at these solutions and what we’re going to do for the community.”
Staff also asked council whether it should continue pursuing a middle mile solution. The fiber installed to Los Alamos through REDI Net has a gap, due to the failure to reach agreement with San Ildefonso for installing fiber through their lands. That gap is currently being filled by two microwave towers, each providing slightly less than one gigabit of bandwidth. Until that gap is filled with fiber, the amount of bandwidth available to the county will be extremely limited.
Council urged staff to actively pursue alternate pathways for the middle mile and funding solutions to implement it.
Council also directed staff to come back during a regular session with concrete suggestions for how to move forward.