Broadband Liftoff

Broadband projects are moving forward in Northern New Mexico. We think.

Santa Fe’s broadband wireless project is more than three years in the making. This week, it finally breaks ground.

The delay comes partly from the difficulty building a new 2-mile-long fiber optic pipeline from the intersection of Second Street and the railroad tracks to the downtown CenturyLink building.

Though the pipeline was supposed to break ground nearly two years ago, establishing rights of way for construction and seeking approval from state and city architectural boards prevented a quicker rollout, according to Sean Moody, project administrator with Santa Fe's Economic Development Division.

Currently, a 60-mile-long fiber optic pipeline connects the city's CenturyLink building to downtown Albuquerque. Though Santa Fe's Web access comes from the Duke City's grid, our city's speed still averages half as many megabits per second than Albuquerque.

CenturyLink effectively controls the last two miles of cable on the pipeline to Santa Fe. This, according to Moody, means that the city's Internet access sits in the control of one provider. Building a new pipeline on that last two miles, he says, will finally put Santa Fe on the same high-speed level as its neighbor to the south.

More specifically, other providers may be able to use the new pipeline and offer service at higher speeds, for a lower price.

But that's easier said than done. For one, the construction route runs through some state land, meaning the city had to establish right-of-way easements before the pipeline could be built.

"Most of the underground pipe is in the streets, but some runs across the Railyard and the downtown Capitol complex," Moody says.

Both the city's Archaeological Review Committee and the state's Historic Preservation Division also had to approve the pipeline design before anything went forward. Things got particularly tricky because the pipeline will run just yards from a historic cemetery just behind Dunkin' Donuts on St. Francis Drive, among other landmarks. Though technically outside of the old cemetery, the pipeline still could have come close to buried bodies.

"In historical times, the good Catholics were buried in the cemetery and the ones who weren't good were buried outside the cemetery," Moody says.

The city ended up contracting with the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies to "add some confidence really that if there was something of interest, we wouldn't go blundering through it," Moody says.

Jessica Badner, a project director with the Office of Archaeological Studies, says her department is monitoring the construction using a plan that had to be reviewed by the Archaeological Review Committee and involved "a huge amount of archaeological research ."

The pipeline is projected to finish in June. Through a contract with the city, Chaparral Cable Co. is the taking on the job, which is projected to cost $1 million, which will be paid for from the Capital Improvement Program bond money.

Another long-discussed local broadband program is also under way. The Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDINet) is also moving forward with a five-year-old plan to continue bringing broadband access to several communities in Northern New Mexico.

All told, REDINet covers a 140-mile radius that extends from northern Santa Fe County up to Taos and around to Los Alamos. The vast stretch of land the pipelines run through explains part of the reason why the project took so long. awhile to build.

"The distance is the challenge," explains Duncan Sill, the economic and strategic director with North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, which oversees the project. "To build out the infrastructure takes planning and consideration."

Challenging with connecting smaller communities to high-speed Internet access doesn't end with delays in the development process. Another problem surfaces when infrastructure is vandalized or accidentally damaged, an entire community can be left without connectivity for a l period of time.

Not so for the City Different. Santa Fe has what's known in the industry as a redundant pipeline. On top of the route to Albuquerque, Santa Fe has a fiber optic pipeline that runs up through Taos County to Colorado (also provided by CenturyLink) and one that runs down to Clovis (provided by local telecom provider Plateau). REDINet also has redundancy plans for its services that reach Dixon, Velarde, Española, Chimayó and other sites.

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