Sparklight employees, from left, Shaun Thomison and Aldo Jurado work on broadband connection in front of a home on Santa Fe Meadows Drive in Rio Rancho. Courtesy of Sparklight.

If the COVID-19 pandemic showed Jane Shanley anything about Rio Rancho’s current broadband setup, it’s that now is the time to expand internet access capabilities.

That’s why Sparklight, a broadband communications provider, is investing $6.5 million to upgrade the City of Vision’s broadband. Shanley, the general manager for Sparklight’s Rio Rancho branch, said the company’s working to increase Rio Rancho’s residential internet speed from one gigabit to 10 gigabits.

She said residents being stuck at home during the pandemic increased the amount of internet activity through the use of multiple devices, from computers to smartphones and tablets, which reinforced the need to shore up the infrastructure, increase the reliability and increase the bandwidth.

“We need to get ready for the future. If we learned anything from the past couple of years, it’s the importance of internet to everybody,” Shanley said.

She also said Sparklight looks to add more internet fiber and replace older equipment, as well as upgrading amplifiers and extenders to handle more speed and data.

In describing what the upgraded infrastructure will look like, Shanley used the analogy of a water pipe with a wider inside circumference.

“Let’s just say you have a pipe that’s pushing all the data through the pipe. We’re going to look at, ‘How big is that pipe? How much data can get pushed through that pipe? And how many users do we have on the pipe?’ If we have a section of town where they’re using lots and lots and lots of data, we’re going to give them their own pipe and make sure that it’s easy access to the internet… We’re going to start there and just firm up that infrastructure in and around those neighborhoods,” Shanley said. “We need to make sure the pipe is big enough to handle the data that customers are going to be using and how quickly you want to get that.”

She also outlined the best-case scenario for what the upgraded internet access will look like.

“You’re watching a movie, it’s crystal clear and it never buffers. That’s good internet speed, and that’s what we want on every device. Whether you have five devices connected or 100 devices connected, ultimately that’s what you want to have happen,” she said.

Shanley said Sparklight’s also examining the idea of adding more nodes to neighborhood hubsites, which split out to a number of homes in each area.

“If that one node goes to 200 homes, but we can put another node in and go to 100 homes (each), then that’s better for everybody down the road. We’re looking at that,” she said.

Shanley also said Sparklight looks to cover the entire city over the next 18 months.

“There’s not a neighborhood that won’t get touched,” she said.

Sparklight employee Joseph Montoya works on broadband equipment. Courtesy of Sparklight.