New Mexico cannot waste the opportunity to expand broadband internet access. Yet without progress over the next few months — including during the 2022 legislative session when money will be allocated for broadband — that’s exactly what could happen.

Officials with the New Mexico Department of Information Technology made it clear to legislators earlier this week New Mexico remains unprepared for wide broadband expansion. Not only has the state not laid enough groundwork, but future funding is uncertain for a project likely to cost more than $1 billion over several years.

It doesn’t appear state officials know exactly how much money they have in hand to begin the work.

Legislators listening to the report at the Transportation Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee wanted details. Without specifics, a project as big as expanding broadband across our vast state can’t be done right.

Even such a basic fact as how many people lack internet service is unknown. There are guesses — solid ones but not exact. A 2020 report by the Legislative Finance Committee estimated between 13 percent and 20 percent of New Mexico’s homes and businesses lacked internet access at the time.

The federal government has weighed in with estimates of some 22 percent of residents lacking broadband infrastructure with acceptable internet speeds. Nearly 70 percent of residents live where only one such internet provider exists. About 1 in 5 New Mexico households lacks an internet subscription, the federal government found.

We have a lot of work to do.

But there is reason to hope. The state has established an Office of Broadband Access and Expansion — that means for the first time, New Mexico is coordinating the effort.

One man, incoming adviser Matt Schmit, is the point person, along with project director Gar Clarke and acting Information Technology Secretary Raja Sambandam. Schmitt isn’t even on the job yet; he starts in early December, with the goal of presenting a framework of the still-unfinished broadband plan to legislators.

New Mexico is eligible for up to $100 million for the project from the American Rescue Plan, a fraction of what eventually will be needed. Pairing those millions with money already appropriated at the state level would jump-start the process.

A key factor in how successful increasing broadband access will be is bringing tribal governments into discussions. As lawmakers pointed out, they have to provide rights-of-way for the necessary infrastructure. And those talks needed to have happened yesterday, well before the infusion of money arrives.

Good news? For the first time, a governor has made expanding internet access a top priority. This effort will be coordinated, designed to avoid wasting money and duplication of efforts. To do that, build on what already has been done.

The state should know where internet is weak or nonexistent; after all, students across New Mexico had to attend remote school for parts of 2020 and 2021. The Public Education Department has records of where the internet is lousy. Those are the places requiring hotspots so students could attend class and do homework.

All that information — whether from state agencies or departments; tribal and local governments; or school districts — needs to be gathered in one place. That’s why the Office of Broadband Access and Expansion matters. Now, there’s a clearinghouse; a place for planning and executing the plan while money is available.

As Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, so correctly pointed out: “Broadband connectivity is a human right.”

In New Mexico, the challenge is to turn that right into reality.

(10) comments

Brandon Letsgo

Sorry to break it to you. The cable and ISP companies will be obsolete in the next 24 months. Those 30’ utility poles with cellular base stations are what is the beginning of the 5G network. At present you can sign up for Starlink service through SpaceX - 100MB/sec for a reasonable price. Bringing a wire or a fiber to a residential customer just won’t make economic sense soon. The fiber dogs will all be working pulling fiber to those 30’ low power cell sites.

I hate to say this but throwing tax money at a service that is driven by customer subscribers is just a waste.

Freddy Mertz

We've all seen this broadband dog and pony show before. Federal and sometimes state (meaning TAXPAYER) funds get plied into something called broadband research and development, or, in this case, the broadband infrastructure, as Pres. Biden sold it.

But wait a second. If the taxpayers are paying for this, then how does internet access still end up being controlled by the usual greedy telecom providers?

If broadband is supposed to be a "human right" (I like citizen right better), and we're footing the bill, then the broadband being built from this capital infrastructure infusion should be available to the public at no charge.

Not $125 per month for one speed, $99 for another, $79 if bundled with cable TV, cellphone service or something else the telecom controllers want you to buy, but free.

I can't think of too many other industries where public funds pay for the product, only to have it then controlled and leased out by a handful of well-connected companies.

Maybe New Mexico can lead the way in making this truly the people's broadband, without fattening the wallets of the telecom thieves.

Alisha Catanach

To the person in Tesuque, we provide 50Mpbs in your ao to NMSurf.com/coverage to see our coverage map. NMSurf is fixed wireless broadband internet service that provides up t0 100Mbps in many rural areas in New Mexico with over 4500 subscribers. Besides the $100 million for the state of New Mexico, this editorial viewpoint comletely forgot to mention the 65 billion Infrastructure bill, that includes broadband funding administered through the Federal Government, like the USDA Reconnect program, amongst other programs administered within the NTIA and the FCC. The FCC was the program administrator of the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) and there will be another RDOF next year. Better broadband is coming to New Mexico.

Chris Mechels

Here in Tesuque we have only Qwest DSL access, at 1.5 mbits. SLOW!! There is an optic cable running past our drive, all the way down to Tesuque school, but we have no access. THAT is New Mexico Broadband, uncoordinated and pathetic. It pays more NOT to solve the problem than to solve it, so... Like LANL where NOT making pits pays more than making them. We pay for promises, not solutions. Living in illusion, not reality.

Alisha Catanach

Chris, have you checked out NMSurf's coverage map? NMSurf is a broadband, fixed wireless internet service provider that provides service to Tequque and many rural areas in New Mexico, including the majority of Santa Fe County with speeds up to 100Mbps.

David Heath

Wasn't Comcast and Century Link supposed to do some serious internet upgrading about 15 years ago for the privledge of having a near monopoly for their sevices? I guess all these government freebies and allowances don't amount to a hill of beans after the deals are signed.

Philip Taccetta

La Canada Wireless provides service to over 500 members. Being off grid I still have excellent, reliable Internet at a very reasonable price and we are members, not customers. Perhaps the state should look into how they do it!

Alisha Catanach

NMSurf also provides fixed wireless internet in the same areas as La Canada with much faster speeds and a more reliable network. NMSurf provide speeds up to 100Mbps in most markets. Go to NMSurf.com/coverage to see our coverage map. NMSurf does not require subscribers to become members and fix their own internet issues like La Canada does, and they provide much faster, reliable speeds than LCW.

Stefanie Beninato

We were told in Santa Fe that there would be broadband expansion. Carol Romero Wirth introduced a resolution saying that broadband would be limited to streets that are 50 ft or wider. So why does our 10-12 ft wide alley have cell phone transmitters on a utility pole that is no more than 30 ft high? When asked to look into the matter in August 2021, Romero Wirth feigned ignorance. I pressed her to look into the matter. I guess her "grueling" campaign for reelection left her without the time in the past FOUR months to respond. What a great representative NOT!!!

Jim Montevallo

She's been terrible. Gets my vote as worst on the entire council.

We cannot foul up broadband. Third world countries have New Mexico topped.

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