Technology and infrastructure

Fire crashes internet, cell service in three counties


The internet is so ubiquitous in daily life that when it's suddenly gone, the void it leaves is hollowing.

Many parts of Northern New Mexico experienced a widespread internet and cell service outage last week after a fiber optic line outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico was damaged.

Taos residents and businesses began experiencing the outage Thursday (March 1) at about 12:30 p.m. with Kit Carson Telecom and Comcast affected.

The "main trunk" of the fiber optic network was damaged in the vicinity of Watrous in Mora County, approximately 20 miles north of Las Vegas, according to a Thursday interview with Colfax County Emergency Manager Thomas Vigil.

The outage wasn't an all-or-nothing ordeal like in 2013 when a beaver reportedly damaged a fiber optic cable near Eagle Nest. At that time, Taos had one broadband line in and out of the county, meaning that all service, across most carriers and providers, went dark.

Taos now has a redundant, or secondary, broadband line, meaning last Thursday's outage didn't hit the town of Taos or the surrounding communities equally.

Downtown Taos businesses dealing with the outage included The Taos News, Rivera's Funeral Home and the KCEC offices. Municipal offices in Questa had no internet service and the village was largely without cell service.

In Colfax County, the outage was also scattershot, according to Vigil. Throughout Thursday, the Moreno Valley was without both cell and internet service, he said. Raton's internet was fully operational but cell service was spotty. Internet was out in Springer but operational in Cimarron.

Peter Martinez, Mora County fire administrator, said his county did lose some service but added that it wasn't so noticeable because residents are used to spotty service.

Kit Carson Telecom redirected internet traffic along the redundant broadband line through Blanca, Colorado, which allowed some service to be restored by 4:30 p.m. Thursday, according to Andrew Gonzales, director of Kit Carson Telecom's broadband service.

Because only a certain amount of information can move along a broadband line, municipal governments, Holy Cross Hospital and cell phone calls were being automatically prioritized, Gonzales said.

"Circuit capacity" was increased along the Blanca line to handle the greater-than-usual volume of internet traffic, he said.

Vigil, Martinez and representatives for Comcast and CenturyLink all said a wildfire caused the outage although no wildfires were reported on an online wildfire database.

"Wildfires melted several parts of the fiber several miles north of Las Vegas, which resulted in the need to replace a section of fiber," said Julianne Phares, director of external affairs for New Mexico's Comcast office.

The damaged fiber optic line is owned by CenturyLink, which led the repairs, according to that company's media representative Courtney Morton. Internet service was restored by about 9 p.m., they said.