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FCC approves $165M for NM broadband

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Jose Romero, left, and Nick Benavidez with Chaparral Cable Co. work on installing a high-speed fiber optic cable. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The Federal Communications Commission has approved $165 million in grants for 18 companies to extend broadband connectivity in underserved areas around New Mexico.

The funding is part of a $9.2 billion FCC allocation to boost high-speed internet service across the country through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Grant recipients participated in a competitive auction to win funding for a 10-year period.

The FCC announced the winning bids last week, benefitting 18 electric cooperatives, wireless service providers, cable companies and satellite businesses that, taken together, are expected to extend broadband to about 64,000 locations around the state, according to New Mexico’s congressional delegation. The recipients must meet periodic build-out requirements that require them to reach all individually assigned locations by the sixth year of funding.

“The challenges over this last year in accessing virtual learning, online economic opportunities, and telehealth services have only reinforced the importance of bringing high-speed broadband service to all of our communities,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, said in a prepared statement. “… We must do everything we can to make sure broadband service is available to every single New Mexican.”

The grants range from a low of $3,150 for Plateau Telecommunications in eastern New Mexico to a high of $59.2 million for wireless internet provider Resound Networks LLC, which serves West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

Other large grant recipients include $38 million for Grants-based Continental Divide Electric Cooperative and $15.5 million for Windstream Services LLC.

FCC funding will allow Continental Divide to extend its Red Bolt Broadband program to more than 8,400 homes and businesses in its service territories, which include Cibola County and parts of McKinley, Sandoval, Bernalillo and Valencia counties, co-op CEO Robert Castillo said. The co-op also recently received $4.4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Public Regulation Commission to extend fiber optic trunk lines and fiber-to-the-home service at Zuni Pueblo and surrounding areas.

“We are thrilled and grateful for the state and federally-sponsored grant programs,” Castillo said in a statement. “This funding will go a long way toward bridging the digital divide in (our) service area.”

The co-op’s Red Bolt Broadband program grew out of Continental Divide’s build-out of a supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA, system which enables digitally-based energy management to improve the reliability, efficiency, safety and quality of the co-op’s electric grid. SCADA requires the installation of fiber-optic lines and other high-speed communications equipment to monitor the grid remotely and gather data in real time.

Red Bolt Broadband became available in the City of Grants in 2017, and then the village of Milan in January 2020.

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