Hobbs, Lovington gigabit cities thanks to Leaco
Just as older homes lacked enough electrical outlets as Americans became accustomed to their appliances in the mid-20th century, an internet barrier exists in many homes today, limiting the speed of various electronic devices to stream TV, play video games online and download data.
A local telephone cooperative is seeking to end the days of buffered videos, paused video games and Lego look-a-like football players on TV in two local communities by making Hobbs and Lovington “gigabit cities.”
Leaco, founded in 1954 as a member-owned rural telephone cooperative in southeastern New Mexico, is blazing into the 21st century in a different direction as a broadband internet service provider. The company, which still provides landline phone service, has invested millions of dollars in fiber optic equipment in Hobbs and Lovington that promises “lightning-fast internet download speeds of up to 1 Gbps,” equivalent to 1,000 megabits per second.
“We love the fact that we can say we’ve made Hobbs a gigabit city, and Lovington,” said Leaco CEO Sid Applin, adding other incorporated areas of Lea County such as Tatum will also be offered the high-speed internet service when the fiber optic infrastructure is in place. Currently, Tatum has Leaco fiber optic lines, but not the equipment to handle gigabit speeds, Applin explained.
As the fiber optic service areas in Hobbs and Lovington grow, the company is excited about the growth opportunities with both residential and business customers.
“We’ll continue building as long as we can,” said Lisa Pearce, Leaco’s sales and marketing manager. “That’s our future.”
Pearce said the gigabit service is a huge step forward for both Leaco and Lea County.
Applin said in the digital age of today, large prospective businesses demand high-speed internet in the realm of up to 1 gigabit per second.
“If a big oil company wants to build a headquarters in Hobbs, they won’t dream about something less than this,” Applin said.
Applin declined to disclose the amount of the investment into gigabit-speed fiber optic lines and equipment currently being built in Hobbs and Lovington, other than saying it’s a “multi-million-dollar” investment, and less than $10 million.
Leaco, headquartered in Hobbs and the Hobbs Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Business of the Year, is currently offering several broadband internet packages, from 10 megabits per second up to 1 gigabit per second.
The high-speed service was launched in Hobbs about a month ago, initially covering the central and east-central parts of the city, as the cooperative builds its way west in phases, using its own poles in alleyways to carry fiber optic lines to homes, businesses and governmental agencies. One client is the Eagle IC center at the Hobbs Police Department, which uses Leaco’s high-speed broadband internet service to deliver real-time video from 50 cameras in the city. The citywide camera system was installed in 2014.
Tatum, Dexter and Hagerman are Leaco’s dedicated service areas, meaning Leaco receives tax subsidies to provide landline telephone service in those smaller communities. Hobbs and Lovington are Leaco’s competitive areas, meaning the little cooperative is now taking on corporate giants in the digital arena.
Applin demonstrated the gigabit internet speed at Leaco’s offices on West Broadway Street in Hobbs. Choosing a lengthy YouTube music video, he showed how the viewer can skip to any part of the video instantly, with no buffering or delays.
“It’s a gamer’s dream,” Applin said.
A technician at heart, Applin explained that Leaco has three routes to the worldwide web, providing a redundancy in the fiber optic system. If a fiber optic pole and line is brought down by a truck, for example, the internet service isn’t interrupted because of its redundant routes, he said.
Applin said laptop computers more than three years old can’t fully use gigabit speeds. A new router is often needed when customers sign up for Leaco’s higher-speed service.
Currently, about 60 percent of Hobbs is covered by Leaco’s fiber optic system. Most of Lovington is also covered. The gigabit service began as a pilot project in Lovington.
“We’re continuing to build out as we speak,” Applin said.
Leaco currently serves all the public schools in Hobbs and Lovington, a couple of its larger clients.
“It’s a big trust for a business to say, ‘Can we trust them?” Pearce said. “We’re a small company and local people are saying can we trust what Leaco is telling us?”
Applin said the proof is in the pudding.
“Many businesses today are giving that trust and signing on,” he said, adding most of Hobbs will be covered within 18 months.
“We’re signing them up daily,” Pearce said. “So, the best thing to do is call.”
Jeff Tucker can be reached at .