Let's utilize unused fiber to expand broadband access - Albuquerque Journal

Let’s utilize unused fiber to expand broadband access

Over the last year, the lack of broadband access in New Mexico was on full display. Our expansive state needs innovative, cost-effective solutions to this problem.

We are business leaders, spanning six different sectors, taking part in the Leadership Albuquerque program through the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. We believe broadband access is critical to our economic growth and well-being. Broadband brings people together – teachers to students, doctors to patients, first responders to the sick or hurting, and family members to one another. It enables the connections we need in order to learn, grow and lead productive and healthy lives.

As such, we support Senate Bill 360, which would allow unused fiber – called “dark fiber” – that is already in the ground across New Mexico to extend broadband access to rural communities. Sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, the bill would reduce the need to build new broadband infrastructure across miles and miles of land by using what we already have to reach our most vulnerable communities.

Here’s how SB 360 works:

Utility companies lay ground wire across New Mexico to bring us electricity. They must negotiate with landowners to secure rights of way across potentially thousands of parcels of land. Often, the ground wire contains fiber optics, and utilities will typically not use all the fibers in the bundle. SB 360 would allow these unused fibers to be used by telecommunications providers to bring the internet to most anywhere it’s lacking.

Electric utilities’ ground wires would provide “middle mile” capacity, leveraging existing rights of way, without the need to build new infrastructure. Telecommunications companies would pay the utility a fee to use the lines, and the fee would be credited back to ratepayers.

Think about all the in-ground fiber running between electric transmission facilities in New Mexico. Every strand represents an opportunity to improve someone’s life.

When students were sent home due to COVID-19, one in five did not have internet access. When doctors were unable to see patients in-person, they turned to telehealth for everything from critical behavioral health visits and well-checks for babies to post-op monitoring. Even this year’s legislative session is occurring primarily virtually, with public participation limited to those who can webcast meetings and provide video testimony.

We have long known that New Mexico ranks among the least-connected states in the nation, but the pandemic amplified the seriousness of this challenge. By passing SB 360, the Legislature would extend the internet across New Mexico faster – and less expensively – than it could be done otherwise, providing access to medical care, access to education and resources, and access to the world.

A supporter of this bill, named Sarah, recently said, “Equitable access to internet is a necessity in today’s work and school environments, not a commodity.” We agree and urge the Legislature to pass SB 360.

This was also signed by Leadership Albuquerque 2021 class members Rose Nelson, Gabe Castro, Mark Arnold, Suzanne Mirabal, Sandy Mwei and Michal Kuca.

 


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