By Marti Burt

Children’s education, business start-ups, health care delivery, farm-to-table agriculture — what doesn’t suffer from the current state of high-speed internet coverage in New Mexico? Rural areas are especially affected, but even our biggest urban areas lack adequate connection speed. All that is poised to change, thanks to action during the 2021 New Mexico legislative session and massive federal legislation.

The state conducted a comprehensive study providing an in-depth analysis of the multiplicity of issues that have persisted as barriers to fast internet access. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE. click here

It is distances, natural barriers like mountains, inadequate technology, and lack of investment. Successes over the past 10 years such as  connecting schools to the internet show what investment can do, but until now resources have not been adequate.

Now both state and federal investment is here, or almost here—2021 appropriations for broadband totaled $158.3 million—by far the biggest state investment ever. And investment can make a big difference in overcoming the other barriers. Sen. Michael Padilla led the charge in the 2021 legislative session, introducing several bills of which SB93 click here and SB204 click here are now law.

There is now a government office responsible for expanding broadband. SB93, which Sen. Liz Stefanics co-sponsored with Sen. Padilla, establishes the Broadband Access and Expansion Act, creating the Office of Broadband Access and Expansion in the Department of Information Technology and charging it with developing and implementing a statewide three-year plan by Jan. 1, 2022. It will set standards for service quality, collect and publish progress data, provide technical assistance to local governments, schools, and state agencies, and identify federal and other resources and help bring them to New Mexico. SB204 expands the ways that an existing fund, the State Rural Universal Services Fund, can be used for broadband.

The New Mexico House of Representatives, meanwhile, did its part with HB10 click here, the Connect New Mexico Act, sponsored by Representatives Figeuroa, Garratt, Herrera, Sweetser, and Chandler. This Act creates the Connect New Mexico Council and establishes its duties. The Council is given status as co-coordinator with the Department of Information Technology and is the route to assuring that every New Mexican has a voice in how the internet develops in New Mexico.

And now to money. In addition to New Mexico’s 2021 commitment of $158.3 million, Democrats in Congress gave us the American Rescue Plan early in 2021 (all Republicans voted against it!). American Rescue Plan contributions to broadband expansion are more than the state total, at $194.3 million. And now we’ll get at least another $750 million under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Congressional Democrats (and 19 Republicans) just passed. Our Senators and Congresswomen Teresa Leger Fernandez and Melanie Stansbury voted for this legislation. But the NM CD2 representative voted against it — despite the overwhelming needs of her mostly-rural district. $100 million goes to help New Mexican households afford broadband; the rest goes to a variety of infrastructure purposes such as cables, satellites, and transmission equipment.

We are on the road to major new resources for broadband and a major new administrative structure to distribute them. Let’s keep watching to assure that broadband expansion is speedy and equitable!