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New Mexico Broadband Overview

A (draft) list of some NM statewide telecommunications issues, initiatives, problems & opportunities, prepared by Richard Lowenberg.

Broadband for New Mexico:

Issues, Initiatives, Problems and Opportunities

(7.27.07 Draft)

President Bush, visiting Albuquerque in early 2004, called for “Broadband for All, by 2007”.   Lacking significant action, in early 2007 FCC Commissioner, Michael J. Copps announced that “The United States is the only developed country in the world without a Broadband Strategy.”  
The U.S ranks variably *12-16th in the world, for broadband penetration, and New Mexico households are near the bottom of ranking in the nation.  Approximately *7% of all NM house-holds have broadband access, compared to 20% of all households nationally.   (*statistics vary)

Many rural New Mexico communities are still severely under-connected to even the most basic broadband (DSL) infrastructure and services.    New Mexico’s rural and poor urban communities are largely, far on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’.

Previous years’ projects to improve telecommunications access and services in New Mexico, such as Connect New Mexico, START, Connect Rio Arriba (Chama) and Taos’ La Plaza project have lost funding, momentum and key ‘champions’, and are now mostly inactive.

Incumbent phone and cable companies, mobile cellular and satellite access services provide fairly low-bandwidth connectivity and tiered pricing, emphasizing downloads but not uploads.    Thus, subscribers are regarded only as ‘consumers’, rather than also providers of information.   Even if the incumbent providers (Qwest and Comcast being the most notable) would like to do more here, they are severely limited by lack of investment capital, since New Mexico must compete with much more populated areas.  (We are designated a bottom “Tier 3” state, when it comes to prioritizing investments at the corporate level.)   Companies wanting to offer competing alternative services are often restricted by incumbent-favoring business practices.

DSL penetration in the Qwest NM area is currently 69% vs. 82% average in all the Qwest states.   Qwest has previously determined that nowhere in its service area are ‘true’ broadband services profitable.   Qwest Communications, in its Settlement Agreement with the State of New Mexico, must now upgrade facilities and infrastructure throughout the state over the next few years; while providing some rebate to customers; and supporting a state networked education project.

“Wire New Mexico”, the State’s ‘mission-critical’ fiber and microwave backbone project, is currently being deployed to provide for high capacity  inter-connectivity, for state agencies and universities only.    Funded in part by Homeland Security, its uses are restricted and proprietary.

The Governor has appointed a board to oversee and make decisions on extended deployment, connections to, and applications for the 40 Gbps National LambdaRail Network, in New Mexico.   This next generation Internet, high-capacity backbone offers  unique strategic opportunities for cost savings and innovative solutions to support many of our state’s networking needs.

New Mexico Public Education Department’s Rural Education Division has partial funding, but a long way to go yet, to roll out IDEAL-NM (Innovative Digital Education and Learning in NM), its “digital divide” bridging PK-20 distance education initiative.

UNM’s Tele-Health Center has taking the lead on a large partnered grant proposal to the FCC’s Rural Healthcare Pilot Program, for a New Mexico-Arizona tele-health network and services.   Governor Richardson’s film and media initiative, and the State’s science, technology, education and economic development programs, plus energy and water projects, all require broadband fiber infrastructure, for which an integrated strategic plan has not been developed or implemented.

Sandoval County recently embarked on one of the nations most ambitious ‘open’ broadband wireless infrastructure and access projects.    With peering connections to the National LambdaRail, the project was to provide low cost, high speed services throughout the large, mostly rural county, including seven native pueblo communities.   Accounting and contracting irregularities which are now being investigated by the State Auditor, may jeopardize the project.

A number of Native American community applicants in New Mexico have received U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture-RUS funding to provide broadband access and services for their underserved, rural, low-density populations.   “Internet to the Hogan” centered in Crownpoint, will serve parts of the Navajo Nation.   Laguna Pueblo and San Ildefonso are deploying wireless networks, and startup providers, such as Sacred Wind, are extending tele-service with RUS grants.

Commercial vendors, such as Verizon and Qwest, are rolling out digital cellular services in a number of New Mexico’s small and large communities, including Red River and the Las Lunas region, as well as in Rio Rancho, Farmington, Gallup, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.

The City of Las Cruces and some northern New Mexico municipalities are now considering fiber optic and wireless ‘open service provider networks.’    The state’s Municipal League, led by its President, Espanola’s Mayor Joseph Maestas, passed a Resolution in 2006, advocating for community owned ‘open’ fiber broadband networks.  

The City of  Albuquerque has issued an RFP for a citywide wireless network.   The City also has a number of increasingly important fiber co-location, peering centers, such as 505 Marquette St.   Yet, some neighborhoods in the state’s largest city still do not have DSL or cable modem access.

Like most other communities in New Mexico, Santa Fe came out on the ‘short end’ of its cable re-franchising agreement with Comcast Communications (in 2003).   It received no prior non-compliance fees, nor a fiber I-Net to connect government facilities, non-commercial community sites or the public school district (now contracting for fiber at higher cost, with Qwest.)

City of Santa Fe has yet to successfully deploy its Light Trail, government fiber-net backbone, but is slowly beginning to deploy public access wireless infrastructure.   Santa Fe County intends to now bring fiber interconnections to the Community College District and new business park.

The 1st-Mile New Mexico initiative is advocating “Broadband for All” in New Mexico, through creation of a State “Integrated Strategic Broadband Plan”; organizing-hosting a national “Open Broadband” conference; and establishment of a 1st-Mile Institute, to carry on long term efforts.

There’s lots more currently in process, lots more to do and lots more expected.

Santa Fe Fiber

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