Broadband in the East Mountains—when?

Left to right, Bernalillo County Commissioner Jim Smith, Steven Grabiel, Deanna Archuleta, Leo Baca and Damian Donckels. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Internet and cell phone access in the East Mountains is spotty, and on the radar of major providers, but is unlikely to improve quickly.

That was the takeaway from a meeting Sept. 8 hosted by Bernalillo County, which brought providers and emergency responders together with the public to talk about access issues.

Describing the East Mountains as an “underserved area,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Jim Smith hosted the meeting, which featured a panel made up of representatives from AT&T, CenturyLink, and local provider Higher Speed Internet, along with the Bernalillo County Sheriff and Fire Chief.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales said the county’s current communications system is at the end of its 20-year expected life, and said his department is “piecemealing the system” and making do with outdated infrastructure.

Gonzales said he has been seeking an upgrade for the past three and a half years.

“It’s archaic, and inefficient, and not the way to run a 21st century government,” Gonzales said.

Likewise, Fire Chief Greg Perez described issues communicating, especially during emergencies like the Dog Head Fire, which in 2016 ripped through about 18,000 acres near what one provider at the meeting described as “the hole” in cell phone and internet service.

“Our towers are actually failing daily,” Perez said.

Bernalillo County is working with the City of Albuquerque on a joint upgrade, Gonzales said.

After emergency responders described problems with their current access, cell phone and internet providers weighed in on obstacles to improving that system.

Damian Donckels, director of engineering at AT&T, said in an interview after the forum that improved access boils down to building more towers.

Leo Baca is N.M. Government Affairs Director for CenturyLink. He described the challenges of improving service in the area of South N.M. 217 and 337 area, including access to funding into “areas that are somewhat high cost.”

Rural areas are “high cost” by definition, as dense city areas mean higher profit with smaller outlay for companies like CenturyLink.

Large lot sizes and relatively sparse populations, along with digging trench in rock make the cost of adding infrastructure too high for the financial return to CenturyLink. Possible solutions Baca identified are government subsidies to help with construction costs, along with partnering with other providers like Higher Speed Internet.

Donckels said the way people are using cell phones and the internet is changing as well, with more people using data for streaming video or text messages, and fewer phone calls.

More people using data means slower data rates for everyone, Donckels said. Building more cell phone towers would help, but that process can take two years to get approved, and “at some point these big towers still can’t keep up with demand,” he said.

Donckels repeatedly said, “People don’t want towers in their backyards,” to which many members of the audience raised their hands to volunteer property for a tower.

While Donckels and Baca both talked about 5G service, that message seemed to fall on deaf ears in the audience, with many people pointing out that their cell phones don’t work at all.

Donckels also described a project AT&T is working on called First Net, which would create a data network for first responders. As he described it, that added bandwidth would be available to any user on the network most of the time, but in case of emergency, those “lanes” would be reserved for emergency responders.

To make that happen, federal funding for underserved areas would be used to build the towers. Donckels and another AT&T representative said that there are areas in the East Mountains that are considered a priority.

Still, even those emergency-use towers could take a few years, and when pressed on a time frame, Donckels said it was “top secret,” explaining that AT&T does not like to give timelines or details on future construction.

Steven Grabiel’s said his business is at the other end of the spectrum, with a few employees, in “an industry where enough is never enough.”

Access issues include “congestion in the spectrum” and interference with radio signals, Grabiel said. As Higher Speed’s network “crosses many counties,” government regulations are also challenging, he said.

Legislation introduced by Smith this year before he retired from the state Legislature allows a company like Higher Speed to use existing infrastructure like power poles.

Members of the audience said they just want any cell phone to work, and to have any internet service that works. Many volunteered property for cell phone towers, and said CenturyLink is overcommitted in the area.

“Our cell phones don’t even work, and you’re talking about streaming video and playing games,” one person said.

Baca said the cost to “fill those gaps” in the infrastructure “would take a whole lot of money.”

“You need to get back to serving the need of existing customers on an oversubscribed network that doesn’t provide bandwidth to existing customers,” a man who lives in the South 14 area said.

“It’s adorable hearing you talk about 5G,” said Marcus Martin, who lives near Yrissari. “We don’t have any cell service. Our DSL is oversubscribed. I’ve called every provider there is.”

“This meeting is broadcasted on youtube—we’ll have to go to town to watch it,” said another man. “I just want to get my phone to ring.”

“It’s on our radar,” Baca said.

“I know there’s providers around—once a year I call them all and have them tell me they can’t provide service,” Martin said. “CenturyLink’s DSL isn’t taking new customers. … I’m way past being mad. I get it. It sucks, it’s expensive. I just want to know what I can do. People want a tower—build the damn tower on my land. We need a tower. I just want internet.”

“I was actually shocked to hear so many people stand up to say you can put one in my yard,” Smith said. “Until all your neighbors come out and say we don’t want you to put one up.”

Smith said most of the opposition to building towers he hears comes down to aesthetics. “From a business standpoint, it’s a cost versus demand type of thing,” he said, adding, “It’s a public safety issue to my mind. That to me is the real issue.”

Broadband in the East Mountains—when?

By Leota Harriman

Internet and cell phone access in the East Mountains is spotty, and on the radar of major providers, but is unlikely to improve quickly.

That was the takeaway from a meeting Sept. 8 hosted by Bernalillo County, which brought providers and emergency responders together with the public to talk about access issues.

Describing the East Mountains as an “underserved area,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Jim Smith hosted the meeting, which featured a panel made up of representatives from AT&T, CenturyLink, and local provider Higher Speed Internet, along with the Bernalillo County Sheriff and Fire Chief.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales said the county’s current communications system is at the end of its 20-year expected life, and said his department is “piecemealing the system” and making do with outdated infrastructure.

Gonzales said he has been seeking an upgrade for the past three and a half years.

“It’s archaic, and inefficient, and not the way to run a 21st century government,” Gonzales said.

Likewise, Fire Chief Greg Perez described issues communicating, especially during emergencies like the Dog Head Fire, which in 2016 ripped through about 18,000 acres near what one provider at the meeting described as “the hole” in cell phone and internet service.

“Our towers are actually failing daily,” Perez said.

Bernalillo County is working with the City of Albuquerque on a joint upgrade, Gonzales said.

After emergency responders described problems with their current access, cell phone and internet providers weighed in on obstacles to improving that system.

Damian Donckels, director of engineering at AT&T, said in an interview after the forum that improved access boils down to building more towers.

Leo Baca is N.M. Government Affairs Director for CenturyLink. He described the challenges of improving service in the area of South N.M. 217 and 337 area, including access to funding into “areas that are somewhat high cost.”

Rural areas are “high cost” by definition, as dense city areas mean higher profit with smaller outlay for companies like CenturyLink.

Large lot sizes and relatively sparse populations, along with digging trench in rock make the cost of adding infrastructure too high for the financial return to CenturyLink. Possible solutions Baca identified are government subsidies to help with construction costs, along with partnering with other providers like Higher Speed Internet.

Donckels said the way people are using cell phones and the internet is changing as well, with more people using data for streaming video or text messages, and fewer phone calls.

More people using data means slower data rates for everyone, Donckels said. Building more cell phone towers would help, but that process can take two years to get approved, and “at some point these big towers still can’t keep up with demand,” he said.

Donckels repeatedly said, “People don’t want towers in their backyards,” to which many members of the audience raised their hands to volunteer property for a tower.

While Donckels and Baca both talked about 5G service, that message seemed to fall on deaf ears in the audience, with many people pointing out that their cell phones don’t work at all.

Donckels also described a project AT&T is working on called First Net, which would create a data network for first responders. As he described it, that added bandwidth would be available to any user on the network most of the time, but in case of emergency, those “lanes” would be reserved for emergency responders.

To make that happen, federal funding for underserved areas would be used to build the towers. Donckels and another AT&T representative said that there are areas in the East Mountains that are considered a priority.

Still, even those emergency-use towers could take a few years, and when pressed on a time frame, Donckels said it was “top secret,” explaining that AT&T does not like to give timelines or details on future construction.

Steven Grabiel’s said his business is at the other end of the spectrum, with a few employees, in “an industry where enough is never enough.”

Access issues include “congestion in the spectrum” and interference with radio signals, Grabiel said. As Higher Speed’s network “crosses many counties,” government regulations are also challenging, he said.

Legislation introduced by Smith this year before he retired from the state Legislature allows a company like Higher Speed to use existing infrastructure like power poles.

Members of the audience said they just want any cell phone to work, and to have any internet service that works. Many volunteered property for cell phone towers, and said CenturyLink is overcommitted in the area.

“Our cell phones don’t even work, and you’re talking about streaming video and playing games,” one person said.

Baca said the cost to “fill those gaps” in the infrastructure “would take a whole lot of money.”

“You need to get back to serving the need of existing customers on an oversubscribed network that doesn’t provide bandwidth to existing customers,” a man who lives in the South 14 area said.

“It’s adorable hearing you talk about 5G,” said Marcus Martin, who lives near Yrissari. “We don’t have any cell service. Our DSL is oversubscribed. I’ve called every provider there is.”

“This meeting is broadcasted on youtube—we’ll have to go to town to watch it,” said another man. “I just want to get my phone to ring.”

“It’s on our radar,” Baca said.

“I know there’s providers around—once a year I call them all and have them tell me they can’t provide service,” Martin said. “CenturyLink’s DSL isn’t taking new customers. … I’m way past being mad. I get it. It sucks, it’s expensive. I just want to know what I can do. People want a tower—build the damn tower on my land. We need a tower. I just want internet.”

“I was actually shocked to hear so many people stand up to say you can put one in my yard,” Smith said. “Until all your neighbors come out and say we don’t want you to put one up.”

Smith said most of the opposition to building towers he hears comes down to aesthetics. “From a business standpoint, it’s a cost versus demand type of thing,” he said, adding, “It’s a public safety issue to my mind. That to me is the real issue.”

Broadband in the East Mountains—when?

By Leota Harriman

Internet and cell phone access in the East Mountains is spotty, and on the radar of major providers, but is unlikely to improve quickly.

That was the takeaway from a meeting Sept. 8 hosted by Bernalillo County, which brought providers and emergency responders together with the public to talk about access issues.

Describing the East Mountains as an “underserved area,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Jim Smith hosted the meeting, which featured a panel made up of representatives from AT&T, CenturyLink, and local provider Higher Speed Internet, along with the Bernalillo County Sheriff and Fire Chief.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales said the county’s current communications system is at the end of its 20-year expected life, and said his department is “piecemealing the system” and making do with outdated infrastructure.

Gonzales said he has been seeking an upgrade for the past three and a half years.

“It’s archaic, and inefficient, and not the way to run a 21st century government,” Gonzales said.

Likewise, Fire Chief Greg Perez described issues communicating, especially during emergencies like the Dog Head Fire, which in 2016 ripped through about 18,000 acres near what one provider at the meeting described as “the hole” in cell phone and internet service.

“Our towers are actually failing daily,” Perez said.

Bernalillo County is working with the City of Albuquerque on a joint upgrade, Gonzales said.

After emergency responders described problems with their current access, cell phone and internet providers weighed in on obstacles to improving that system.

Damian Donckels, director of engineering at AT&T, said in an interview after the forum that improved access boils down to building more towers.

Leo Baca is N.M. Government Affairs Director for CenturyLink. He described the challenges of improving service in the area of South N.M. 217 and 337 area, including access to funding into “areas that are somewhat high cost.”

Rural areas are “high cost” by definition, as dense city areas mean higher profit with smaller outlay for companies like CenturyLink.

Large lot sizes and relatively sparse populations, along with digging trench in rock make the cost of adding infrastructure too high for the financial return to CenturyLink. Possible solutions Baca identified are government subsidies to help with construction costs, along with partnering with other providers like Higher Speed Internet.

Donckels said the way people are using cell phones and the internet is changing as well, with more people using data for streaming video or text messages, and fewer phone calls.

More people using data means slower data rates for everyone, Donckels said. Building more cell phone towers would help, but that process can take two years to get approved, and “at some point these big towers still can’t keep up with demand,” he said.

Donckels repeatedly said, “People don’t want towers in their backyards,” to which many members of the audience raised their hands to volunteer property for a tower.

While Donckels and Baca both talked about 5G service, that message seemed to fall on deaf ears in the audience, with many people pointing out that their cell phones don’t work at all.

Donckels also described a project AT&T is working on called First Net, which would create a data network for first responders. As he described it, that added bandwidth would be available to any user on the network most of the time, but in case of emergency, those “lanes” would be reserved for emergency responders.

To make that happen, federal funding for underserved areas would be used to build the towers. Donckels and another AT&T representative said that there are areas in the East Mountains that are considered a priority.

Still, even those emergency-use towers could take a few years, and when pressed on a time frame, Donckels said it was “top secret,” explaining that AT&T does not like to give timelines or details on future construction.

Steven Grabiel’s said his business is at the other end of the spectrum, with a few employees, in “an industry where enough is never enough.”

Access issues include “congestion in the spectrum” and interference with radio signals, Grabiel said. As Higher Speed’s network “crosses many counties,” government regulations are also challenging, he said.

Legislation introduced by Smith this year before he retired from the state Legislature allows a company like Higher Speed to use existing infrastructure like power poles.

Members of the audience said they just want any cell phone to work, and to have any internet service that works. Many volunteered property for cell phone towers, and said CenturyLink is overcommitted in the area.

“Our cell phones don’t even work, and you’re talking about streaming video and playing games,” one person said.

Baca said the cost to “fill those gaps” in the infrastructure “would take a whole lot of money.”

“You need to get back to serving the need of existing customers on an oversubscribed network that doesn’t provide bandwidth to existing customers,” a man who lives in the South 14 area said.

“It’s adorable hearing you talk about 5G,” said Marcus Martin, who lives near Yrissari. “We don’t have any cell service. Our DSL is oversubscribed. I’ve called every provider there is.”

“This meeting is broadcasted on youtube—we’ll have to go to town to watch it,” said another man. “I just want to get my phone to ring.”

“It’s on our radar,” Baca said.

“I know there’s providers around—once a year I call them all and have them tell me they can’t provide service,” Martin said. “CenturyLink’s DSL isn’t taking new customers. … I’m way past being mad. I get it. It sucks, it’s expensive. I just want to know what I can do. People want a tower—build the damn tower on my land. We need a tower. I just want internet.”

“I was actually shocked to hear so many people stand up to say you can put one in my yard,” Smith said. “Until all your neighbors come out and say we don’t want you to put one up.”

Smith said most of the opposition to building towers he hears comes down to aesthetics. “From a business standpoint, it’s a cost versus demand type of thing,” he said, adding, “It’s a public safety issue to my mind. That to me is the real issue.”