Not long ago, we told you about Farmington, New Mexico, a community of 32,000 residents who want to capitalize on its current fiber network. Residents are tired of waiting for private investment in their community and want to take matters into their own hands. The city's electric utility uses the existing fiber network and the city has encountered five separate companies interested in leasing dark fiber as a means to offer services.
New Mexico does not currently have state barriers in place, but its residents recognize the important role of municipal networks and want to proactively block restrictive state legislation. The Media Literacy Project and the Free Press recently met with New Mexico's U.S. Senator Tom Udall's staff in Albuquerque. Udall is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and a member of the Subcommmittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.
The goal of the meeting was to make sure he knows the potential for publicly owned networks in the state. Both groups encouraged him to take the lead on federal legislation that will prevent anti-competitive state bans on municipal networks. At least 19 other states' legislatures have responded to heavy lobbying from large telecommunications companies. The results are crippling restrictions and outright bans on publicly owned networks.
In July, Udall officially announced that the first phase of the Connect America Fund would bring high-speed Internet to 8,000 New Mexicans within three years. According to Udall's announcement:
Broadband and telecommunications companies CenturyLink and Windstream will receive $2.3 million to build broadband infrastructure for New Mexico homes and businesses that currently lack high-speed internet access, connecting them to the $8 trillion global internet economy.
The New Mexico rural population lacks connectivity in almost 47% of households, so any expansion is an improvement. However, CenturyLink and Windstream are investing public dollars in last-generation DSL whereas local governments have a history of building cutting edge, next generation networks without using tax dollars (most are financed using revenue bonds). The Free Press and the Literacy Project want to be sure we do not restrict local control or limit competition for critical network access. From the Project's report on the meeting:
With New Mexico’s proud tradition of strong family bonds and community connectivity, it is counterproductive and countercultural to allow corporate interests to impede municipalities in our state from coming together and building infrastructure for New Mexico’s Children.
Both groups invited Senator Udall to consider the value of New Mexican municipalities owning their broadband infrastructure, and the economic impact of creating local jobs to operate and maintain each broadband network. Both groups further reminded Udall’s office that the decision about whether to build a local broadband network is best made by the community that would to build it — not the major industry players that stand to benefit from reduced competition.