The telecommunications “state of emergency” issued by Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales has more to do with the long-standing issue of ineffective local government and an inability to allow for better wireless and broadband internet infrastructure development for the citizens of Santa Fe than with an actual emergency itself (“Downtown to get much needed cell service relief,” Dec. 12).
The real emergency for the city’s first responders is wireless internet on Verizon’s network not working, not 911 calls being dropped. As per Federal Communication Commission regulations, if you dial 911 and your cellphone carrier’s network is busy, like Verizon’s can be, Verizon is required to use another carrier’s network, any network with the closest tower nearby, to process the 911 call. If Verizon’s network is at capacity and there is not another carrier tower nearby with coverage, then a 911 call cannot be placed, by the mere limits on engineering. However, that rarely ever occurs since cellular networks continuously expand and upgrade their networks, something the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 addressed, something the city of Santa Fe does not exactly follow.
The city of Santa Fe continually has denied applications for wireless cellular and broadband internet tower development, which I believe breaks federal law. For example, NMSurf has been denied right-of-way access to a city-owned tower since 2013 to expand and upgrade its network. Verizon now is allowed carte blanche access to rights of way on municipal property, which is not fair to all other providers.
If the citizens of Santa Fe want to keep up with the rest of the nation, then we need to start viewing broadband infrastructure development as vital to the health and economy of our city. To keep the market competitive, the city needs to allow for a nondiscriminatory, free telecommunications market, in line with FCC rules, and make it easier for providers to develop critical broadband infrastructure needed in our ever-advancing, technological society.
The New Mexican recently ran an opinion article written by state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and House Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española (“Wireless broadband problem is plaguing our state,” My View, Dec. 16), introducing their bi-partisan bill that will be proposed in the upcoming 2018 Legislature.
This bill will keep New Mexico’s broadband infrastructure development up to speed with the rest of the United States. This bill will establish fair rates, fees and time frames for applications. The wireless bill will make it fast and fair for telecommunications companies to expand wireless broadband networks in New Mexico, and lessen the tax burden onto consumers.
In November 2016, Santa Fe adopted a 2 percent franchise fee for telecommunications service providers that locate their facilities in public rights of way. Federal law prohibits municipalities from denying a provider public right-of-way access, if the application meets certain conditions, like that of safety. This new bill will prohibit authorities from overcharging a telecommunications provider from using public right-of-way access. It will also set the standard for wireless infrastructure development in New Mexico to be in line with the Federal Telecommunications Act and 2012 Spectrum Act, prevent unlawful discrimination of authorities toward telecommunications providers and require municipalities to speed up processing of applications.
If New Mexicans truly want a thriving economy, if we want better jobs, better education and better housing options, we need to realize the importance of broadband wireless infrastructure development, or we will continue to be one of the slowest-moving economies and one of the least-educated and poorest states in the country.
Telecommunications emergencies and subpar internet will continue to be a commonplace without dramatic changes at the state and local government level. Without lessening the burden of government regulation and creating a free telecommunications marketplace, the city of Santa Fe and New Mexico will never be able to invoke real change.
Alisha Catanach is a native Santa Fean and technology-obsessed millennial who graduated from Santa Fe High School and The University of New Mexico. She works for NMSurf, a local wireless broadband company headquartered in Santa Fe.