Mayor: Co-op a hurdle in TDS broadband effort in Socorro

The City of Socorro is trying to bring fiber optic broadband internet service to the area, but according to Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker the task is proving to be a difficult one at this point.

At the Socorro City Council regular meeting Monday night Bhasker said TDS Broadband, which currently provides television cable service is attempting to install fiber optic cable on more than 1,000 poles in town, but that the Socorro Electric Cooperative has stalled the company’s efforts “at first base,” according to Bhasker.

“That fiber optic has to be on electrical posts and they can’t get to first base with the (Socorro Electric Cooperative). They have put together a project of $240,000 which engineers this loop of broadband and they’re hoping to bundle, so when you bundle the cost comes down,” Bhasker said. “You get phone, you get TV, you get internet, but they have to put it on the poles here.”

Bhasker said about five or six years ago the City had worked with New Mexico Tech and the local school system to put fiber optic in, but for some reason the Co-op had stopped working with them.

“Just to tell the public our problem with the Co-op goes deeper than electricity. It has to do with bringing broadband to the city. Most people around here have one to two to three, up and down on megabytes,” Bhasker said. “Our biggest problem right now in order to get people to come to the city to do economic development has to do with electricity costs and broadband.”

Bhasker said the Co-op wanted to know how heavy the fiber optic cable would physically be on the poles and what kind of complications it might bring to their electrical system. He added that TDS said they’d have the engineering for the Co-op, but the company wanted the Co-op to tell them how much it might cost to be able to have our wire on the physical poles.

Bhasker said TDS wanted an estimate from the Co-op and that TDS would pay the cost of an engineer conducting an appraisal of the situation.

Bhasker also cited a PowerPoint presentation TDS offered during a meeting with the city and involved parties in which the company addressed three main points regarding construction related to installing the necessary fiber optic cable on those electric poles.

The first would focus on installing coaxial cable in new areas, the second would involve replacing coaxial cable in existing areas and third would be adding fiber optic cable in existing areas.

Bhasker said according to that PowerPoint that “Socorro Co-op has insisted on inspections and loading analysis on all three types of construction, which adds considerable time and costs to the project and that cost of construction has not been provided.”

According to that PowerPoint approximately 80 percent of inspection and new load analysis of new build areas has been completed with 25 percent of all areas completed.

Bhasker said construction has been put on hold barring an estimate for construction costs.

However Councilor Michael Olguin said an invoice from the Co-op had been sent to TDS.

Olguin said he’s been working with the Co-op and that there are always two sides of the story, but from what he understands there was an invoice sent to TDS from the Co-op and that the Co-op has been trying to do the work, but it’s been a little bit difficult.

“I think our role as a city should be where we help facilitate and try to make these deals happen,” Olguin told the council. “If TDS is able to come in here and they are able to provide this high speed internet, then that’s going to open up the competition hopefully. I think if we have the right cooperation between all the entities we can make some stuff happen.”

According to Socorro Co-op General Manager Joseph Herrera the Co-op did send an invoice out to TDS on March 29 in the amount of $58,395.38 for an engineering cost analysis.

That analysis accounts for clearance on lines, which affects traffic and addresses whether or not Socorro’s power lines can handle the weight of TDS conductor’s, or the physical fiber optic cable.

“It’s a matter of public safety,” Herrera said.

Bhasker added that TDS has already established itself in Lovington, a town about the the same size as Socorro.

Councilor Nick Fleming said that TDS purchased their service in Lovington the same time it purchased Socorro’s cable system.

“Lovington has been up and running for a year and a half now with fiber, and they’re still not able to get started here in Socorro,” Fleming said.

The council provided an 11-page document outlining a franchise agreement between TDS and the City defining cable service, a Grant of Franchise, a Franchise Fee which is 4.5 percent of gross subscriber revenues, quarterly payments, fee services provided the Grantor, maintenance and operations, enforcement and revocation.

According to its website TDS Telecommunications Corporation, based in Madison, Wisconsin is the seventh largest local exchange telephone company in the U.S. and a growing force in the cable industry. TDS provides 1.2 million connections to high-speed internet, phone, and TV entertainment services in nearly 900 rural, suburban, and metropolitan communities.

Bhasker said the company likes to provide service to smaller towns.

“TDS is very serious. I don’t care about upsetting the Co-op. They have had discussions but they can’t get to first base with the Co-op to try to get this fiber up,” he said. “TDS is committed with their own money. If they don’t get this done they just have to leave. They’re not going to stick around and bang their head against the wall.”

City Administrator Donald Monette likened TDS to a contractor trying to build a new house.

“Now they just want to know how much it’s going to cost to build the house,” he said.

The council voted unanimously in favor of adopting the franchise agreement with TDS.

In other business the council voted to adopt Resolution No. 17-04-03, the adoption of Community Block Development Grant policies.

The adoption of required CBDG policies is a resolution the council passes on a yearly basis that lays out four specific pillars. The Citizen Participation plan encourages citizen participation with emphasis on low and moderate income individuals, the Fair Housing plan affirms a commitment to further efforts of fair housing which prohibits discrimination in sale, renting, leasing and financing of housing or land for construction of housing based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status or national origin.

The Residential Anti-Displacement plan certifies replacement of all occupied and vacant occupiable low or moderate income dwelling units demolished or converted to a use other than low or moderate income housing as a direct result of activities associated with Housing and Community Development funds and part four, the Section 3 plan encourages the use of small local businesses and the hiring of low income residents of the community.

The council voted unanimously in favor of adopting the resolution.

The next Socorro City Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, April 17.