A typical business in Santa Fe pays about $700 per month for Internet connection. But what they’re getting in return—a speed of 3 megabits per second—is nothing to bargain for.
“That’s incredibly slow compared to services in other cities where you can get 20 [megabits per second] for $800,” says Glenn Wikle, a senior software developer at Qforma, a small tech company in the Railyard that provides data mining techniques to help pharmaceutical and health companies operate more efficiently.
The disparity between connection in Albuquerque and Santa Fe is large. Santa Fe users access an average of 5 megabits per second, while in Albuquerque the average is 10 megabits per second for the same cost.
But now, after two years of on-the-ground research, officials in the Santa Fe Economic Development Division say they have figured out how to make Internet service in the City Different competitive with its bigger neighbor to the south.
The whole picture boils down to a 60-mile pipeline encasing fiber optic cables that run from downtown Santa Fe’s CenturyLink building to the web grid that runs through downtown Albuquerque. In other words, Santa Fe must depend on connecting through the Duke City to get to the rest of the world.
“Every way we get Internet in Santa Fe runs on this line,” says Sean Moody, a project administrator with the city division.
For now, the fiber optic pipeline, and thus the wholesale Internet marketplace, is effectively controlled by one company—CenturyLink, which acts as a gatekeeper for Internet access in Santa Fe. The consequence is that Santa Fe residents and businesses get half the speed as Albuquerque users for the same price.
And although several other companies have access to the 60-mile pipeline, CenturyLink is the sole regulator of the two miles of cable between its building on East Alameda and a piece of equipment called a fiber hut located near the intersection of the railroad tracks and Second Street.
“They’re not the only player, but they’re carrying all the business,” Moody says of CenturyLink. “Realistically, they’ve not delivered to the degree that there’s competition.”
Moody wants to change all this by building a new pipeline from the fiber hut near Second Street to the CenturyLink building, where competing carriers may install distribution equipment to offer their own connections to Santa Fe Internet providers for a competitive price.
“By creating a physical second route, I’ve essentially created a wholesale, robust market,” he says.
And for many local businesses, the sooner broadband comes, the better.
Wikle, who also serves on the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education, adds that the school district, which operates a much bigger online system, is worse off than the business he works for.
Indeed, the bigger and more complex the user, the more problems it likely runs into with connecting online in Santa Fe. And that’s the category the project will truly focus on.
“I’m looking at the folks that need 50-100 [megabits per second] for special use,” Moody says. “Folks who have colossal data sets.”
That includes film studios doing pre- and post-production on a movie and medical companies that have to store large amounts of records electronically. A lack of fast Internet connection in Santa Fe often prompts film and television companies to ship post-production duties of work filmed here to somewhere else with a better online connection, says Paula Amanda, who heads the Santa Fe University of Art and Design Garson Studios.
But she maintains that having broadband access will, at the very least, give production companies the option to stay in Santa Fe longer, which in turn helps the economy.
“If we get broadband for the studios, a lot of editing work will stay in New Mexico rather than go to [Los Angeles],” Amanda says.
The two-mile pipeline is projected to cost the city roughly $1 million, an amount to be drawn from Capital Improvements Program bond money approved by the City Council last year. But the city’s broadband project, which has been planned and talked about for years, has had its share of fits and starts.
Even though the city announced this summer that it was nearly ready to break ground on the new pipeline, a problem in the procurement process means the job still hasn’t gone out to bid. Moody is hoping the two-mile pipeline construction project will go to bid next month. City Council will have to approve the request for proposals before it is issued.