The City of Santa Fe is taking first steps to improve the community's Internet choice, quality, and availability. Recently, the City announced that it has chosen a partner for a middle mile investment and will move forward with the $1 million fiber deployment project.
CenturyLink and Comcast serve Santa Fe, home to approximately 70,000 people. Residents and businesses both complain about slow speeds and relatively high costs. Residents pay $50 per month for average speeds of 5 Mbps while nearby Albuquerque pays the same price for 10 Mbps, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
CenturyLink owns the sole fiber hut connecting the community with the Internet. The company also owns the line bringing access to the web to downtown, giving it control over data transmittal in the city. A city press release, reprinted at SantaFe.com in May 2013 described the problem:
Every home and most businesses already have two physical routes to the Internet: A telephone line and a television cable...But in spite of this abundance of pathways, there is a crucial missing link in the infrastructure, an enduring legacy of the former telephone monopoly. This missing link spans from the central telephone office to a location about two miles away where several fiber optic cables emerge from the ground after traversing many miles of road, railroad and countryside from remote junctions across the state. Absent this two-mile link, local providers have only one way to connect to the outside world, and must pay a steep toll on the data transmitted over it.
The City recently announced that it would work with local ISP Cyber Mesa to build an independent line from downtown to CenturyLink's fiber hut. The City hopes the line will introduce much needed competition, encouraging better service and prices.
According to the plan, Cyber Mesa will run the City's fiber service for four years; after that other bidders can apply to manage the network. Three other companies bid on the project, including CenturyLink who told the City "not to waste money on the project." CenturyLink opposes the plan, of course, and Chris spoke with the New Mexican about what to expect from the incumbents:
Mitchell also warned that the city should not expect competition to flourish on its own, saying Internet giants such as Comcast and Century Link “have a lot of power to run competitors out of business.”
Mitchell warned that Comcast and Century Link have a history of opposing public Internet infrastructure projects through legislation, and that the city should expect resistance if it continues building such projects.
“They’re very happy with the market the way it is,” Mitchell said.
The project details have raised a few eyebrows from industry experts. While the plan to build another line will provide another path to the Internet, one of the bidders, CityLink Fiber, questions the wisdom of the plan:
[CityLink Owner John] Brown said that in his bid he proposed creating a 7-mile loop that would have accomplished the city’s goals and provided additional coverage and redundancy. The city didn’t bite, saying that he couldn’t complete the project within the funding limits, he said.
Brown said he could, but the city remained unconvinced and instead opted for Cyber Mesa.
He also questioned the need for running cable through Century Link’s central exchange, saying it was unnecessary and expensive.
We have been impressed with John Brown's work and are inclined to believe him. But regardless of the details, local businesses are hungry for better service. A local Web design firm owner, Damien Taggart, notes that large data files can take hours to transmit.
Smaller ISPs are also looking forward to an option beyond CenturyLink. Joel Yelich, president of a local wireless provider told the New Mexican:
“I certainly hope that is successful in some way,” Yelich said. “The more competition, the better.”