Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
About 400,000 people in New Mexico, most of them in rural areas of the state, do not have an internet connection.
With a federal grant of $5.74 million, the state of New Mexico is taking a step toward closing that gap.
The grant allows officials across the state to plan another federal grant of more than $100 million, expected in early 2024, to install the hardware needed to bring internet connectivity to parts of the state that don’t now have it.
The planning grant was announced Tuesday at a joint news conference attended by Barbara Cottam, senior advisor to the National Communications and Information Administration, part of the US Department of Commerce. Kelly Schlegel, director of the New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion; and Kathryn Nicolau, director of the City of Albuquerque Broadband Program.
“The Internet is now the primary tool, not just for communications, but really for access to work, access to economic opportunity, access to mobility, education and health care,” Cottam said.
Traveling around the country learning about connectivity challenges, Cottam said she found that disadvantaged communities are ready to connect and “understand the value of high-speed internet,” and that internet providers are willing to partner with these communities to develop solutions. People should not have to choose between living in a community. They love him and a job that is elsewhere.
New Mexico is on its way to providing Internet access for everyone. Last year, Cottam said, NTIA invested more than $150 million in the state, which included money to build 336 miles of new fiber infrastructure. As part of the Tribal Broadband Program, $57 million has been allocated to the Public Education Network of Indian Schools in Santa Fe to connect hundreds of students to the Internet; $44 million went to the Mescalero Apache tribe for a project to provide internet service to more than 800 underserved families. and $3 million to New Mexico Highlands University to create a digital curriculum for workforce development to help reach disadvantaged residents in northern New Mexico.
Generations before us brought water and electricity across America. They built the interstate highway system. Cottam said this is the infrastructural moment of our generation and it is a transformative phase. “It’s our chance to connect every person in America with the tools they need for their lives.”
Schlegel said the $5.74 million grant will be used to “establish strong cooperative relationships with states, federal agencies, local governments, schools, and tribes.”
Ultimately, the goal is to gather data and “put together a very detailed and comprehensive plan to get the Internet into every rural pocket across New Mexico,” she says.
Part of that effort is to conduct a Connect New Mexico survey to map areas of the state that do not have internet service and to determine what type of internet delivery system is available in accessible areas, as well as the provider and internet speed, Schlegel said. This information will be used to update the National Broadband Map. To fill out the survey, visit connectnewmexico.org.
Also present at Wednesday’s news conference were representatives from Teeniors, an organization that brings together tech-savvy teens, seniors, and seniors trying to learn how to use their personal devices and navigate the Internet.