Access to robust, affordable advanced telecommunications services, ought to be available to everyone — no matter who they are, no matter where they live. That is not only the core tenet of the #ConnectingCommunities tour I launched in April, it is one of the ‘prime directives’ of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
An invitation from Congressman Ben Ray Luján and Senator Tom Udall brought me to New Mexico earlier this week, where I engaged in in-depth discussions about the successes and challenges that New Mexico and Navajo Nation face as they bring connectivity to their communities.
A roundtable session with the Senator, Congressman, State legislators, State commissioners, and more than two dozen telephone companies and rural cooperatives that serve the hardest-to-reach places in the Southwest, was the first of several enlightening meetings during the two-day visit. We discussed how costly it is to deploy broadband and other services, particularly on Native lands, and how even in places where broadband is deployed, the lack of internal infrastructure even amongst anchor tenants like an area school, can make it inaccessible to needy populations.
I travelled from Albuquerque for about an hour and a half to Torreon, NM, with Congressman Luján leading the way, to observe a Lifeline signup event, and participate in a discussion hosted by the Torreon Chapter President, David Rico. Cellular One serves this part of Navajo Nation, and plans to upgrade the 2G service they currently offer in Torreon to 3G by the fall, and hopefully to 4G sometime next year. You may not be aware that it takes six microwave hops from the Torreon tower (86 miles) just to reach fiber backhaul.