$117 million grant expected to expand high-speed internet across the state - Albuquerque Journal

$117 million grant expected to expand high-speed internet across the state

In this March 2021 photo, an Albuquerque Public Schools bus equipped with Wi-Fi awaits students while parked near the Pajarito Mesa Community Center. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The U.S. Treasury Department is injecting another $117 million into New Mexico’s efforts to expand broadband – enough to reach about 21% of the locations in the state that lack access to high-speed internet service, according to state estimates.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján joined Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and federal officials to announce the new funding Thursday, available through the American Rescue Plan Act capital projects fund.

The Democrats described it as a “down payment” on efforts to provide access to high-speed internet to more homes and families and make it more affordable for those who already have it.

Luján said the funding is expected to strengthen connectivity along interstates and major roads, in addition to boosting service in rural areas and tribal communities.

“People living out West,” he said, “we know the difference between good internet, bad internet and no internet. That’s what this is going to cure.”

Lujan Grisham said the project is expected to provide service to more than 40,000 homes, businesses and other locations in New Mexico – with a $30 per month subsidy to help low-income households afford the service and a $75 subsidy in Native American communities.

It’s just one of several funding streams from the federal government for broadband expansion. At least $175 million in broadband funding has been announced in New Mexico over the last two months, in addition to the money awarded Thursday.

“We don’t want to miss any opportunity,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’re moving quickly.”

The state estimated Thursday’s funding would help serve about 21% of the locations in New Mexico that lack high-speed internet access.

Construction is expected to begin next year, and each project will have three years to finish construction and begin offering service.

Two years ago, the state estimated it would cost at least $1 billion to reach most or all of the unserved locations in New Mexico. About 13% to 20% of homes and businesses didn’t have broadband internet available, according to state documents released last year.

The shift to remote learning during parts of the COVID-19 pandemic and rise of teleworking have exposed shortcomings in New Mexico’s internet access. Many families had to leave home to catch Wi-Fi, sometimes sitting outside fast-food restaurants to get the speeds necessary to complete homework or do online learning.

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