AP NEWS

New Mexico still lagging despite broadband investments

November 13, 2019 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — More than $300 million has been funneled to New Mexico in recent years to boost broadband access for schools, hospitals and other institutions, but many rural areas remain unserved, a report says.

Legislative analysts outlined their findings in the report for state lawmakers, saying New Mexico lags when it comes to high-speed internet and efforts to address access are disjointed and scattered across multiple agencies.

Boosting broadband has been a longstanding challenge for New Mexico. Federal and state officials are hosting workshops this week in Truth or Consequences and Albuquerque to bring civil leaders and experts together.

Federal officials point to census figures that show almost 30% of New Mexico residents have no internet subscription of any type while 55% of residents have a subscription such as fiber, cable or DSL at home.

That means nearly half the homes in New Mexico don’t currently benefit from a high-speed broadband connection.

Legislative analysts looked at how New Mexico compares to other states and territories and found it trails all but Mississippi and Puerto Rico in household broadband penetration. Two of New Mexico’s neighbors — Utah and Colorado — rank in the top five most connected states while Arizona ranked 14th.

Vince Martinez, head of the New Mexico Department of Information Technology, described the problem during a recent legislative meeting as being a “huge issue” centered on the state’s rural nature.

“What we are attempting to do is provide broadband to 15% to 20% of the population of the state of New Mexico that live in 85% of the land mass,” he said, noting that the cost to lay fiber optic cable can run as high as $70,000 a mile.

Martinez estimated that broadband investments would have to be doubled or even tripled to meet the state’s goals. He expects to have a better idea about costs in the coming months.

His agency has commissioned an analysis of the needs and gaps for existing and future broadband deployment in the state.

The department also has been working to coordinate governmental and private sector stakeholders through a working group and a new advisory committee.

Legislative analysts have said that such communication will be key given the disparate and complex nature of broadband development. They also said in their report that New Mexico’s previous experience with similar groups should serve as a cautionary example of well-intentioned plans that lack follow-through.

Currently, New Mexico doesn’t have formalized goals or a unified broadband policy with respect to oversight, funding and infrastructure. Rather, multiple agencies claim some responsibility for different parts of the overall system.

Maine, Minnesota, Virginia and Washington have all created central authorities with strong directives to oversee statewide broadband activities.

Most of the money invested in New Mexico projects between 2015 and 2018 came through federal channels. The state’s share has included appropriations for planning and capital projects and allocations from the state rural universal service fund.