Portales prepares for an upgrade

By Kevin Wilson

With gold shovels and a giant check, the employees and supporters of Yucca Telecom made the ceremonial first dig on a project meant to bring the future to Portales via underground cables.

Tuesday saw the communications business, first started in 1951, hold a groundbreaking ceremony for its $11.3 million fiber optic project. The company is planning to use the next year to install a fiber optic network throughout the city, claiming benefits for customers and all citizens.

“We’re going to be able to provide the fastest Internet,” Yucca General Manager Scott Arnold said. “We’re positioning ourselves for the future, for high definition television, Internet sevice and video on demand.”

The project is being funded through a loan by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Broadband program, which has more than $2 billion set aside to help communities like Portales put in fiber optics.

“I really commend Yucca for taking the risk to take on this loan,” said Paul Gutierrez, the state USDA director, “to bridge the digital divide that has existed for so long in the rural United States.”

Through the financial support of the USDA, the installation of the lines will come at no extra cost to Yucca subscribers. However, rates may change based on the services that Yucca can provide with the underground glass cables.
Though fiber optics aren’t new, the systems still are not available to much of the country. Barry Moore of CHR Solutions said that fiber optic systems are available in only 3.5 percent of U.S. communities.

“While fiber to the home is not in its infancy,” Moore said, “it’s still very early in its life.”

The city is divided into 10 segments, called “system ponds” by Arnold, with work progressing from one pond to another over the course of a year. Arnold said that the first customers could be set up with fiber optics by the end of March.

The project seeks to make a fiber optic connection to the Internet available to every household and business in town. Supporters claim the network will be helpful to recruit new businesses, which will need a reliable network to communicate across the world.

“Having this infrastructure provides us with yet another tool to market our growing commuity,” Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said. “The opportunities to all of us are endless.”

Ortega’s point was echoed after a ceremonial luncheon by Ernie Watson, a public information coordinator for the USDA.

“Portales is really poised to see some economic development because of this,” Watson said. “This is a major, major opportunity for the economy.”