New Mexico to receive $675 million from federal government for broadband expansion

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Jun. 26—New Mexico will receive more than $675 million from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand broadband, especially in rural communities, a windfall officials hailed Monday as a major step toward ensuring all state residents have adequate internet access.

More than $40 billion in federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment funding will be distributed across the U.S. to expand internet access in corners of the country without access or with inadequate access, President Joe Biden announced Monday.

Supporters said New Mexico's share will better connect residents with all of the essential services the internet brings — from online learning to telehealth doctor's visits, remote work and e-commerce.

"Today's digital era has made clear that an internet connection is a necessity for New Mexico families. It's needed in order for students to complete their studies, for families to access work and telehealth services and for small businesses to get ahead," U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján said in a statement after the announcement.

"This investment will help close the digital divide in our rural communities and allow more New Mexicans the opportunity to fully participate in the online economy," the senator added.

Currently, nearly a quarter of New Mexicans don't have adequate access to the internet or no access, Alison Riley, a spokesperson for New Mexico's Office of Broadband Access and Expansion, said in an interview Monday.

The early days of the coronavirus pandemic laid bare the challenge of insufficient internet access, Riley said, as remote workers flocked to Starbucks and McDonald's parking lots in search of reliable Wi-Fi.

By the end of 2023, New Mexico will submit a plan to the federal government indicating how the state plans to spend this $675 million investment.

The funding will be used to establish infrastructure and improve services across New Mexico, Riley said.

It also will cover the costs of digital literacy and equity programs, Riley added, which will enhance connectivity in unserved and underserved communities, educational institutions and health care facilities.

"We really want to make sure that everyone in New Mexico is connected, and everyone has the same access to high-speed internet," Riley said. "Someone in Albuquerque should have the same exact connection as [someone in] Farmington."

Government officials lauded the $675 million in federal funding — which U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich called "one of the largest single investments in broadband in our state's history" — as a means to better connect New Mexicans to the services they need.

"Expanding access to high-speed internet improves the quality of education our students receive, makes health care more accessible and affordable, strengthens public safety and grows our economy," Heinrich added in a statement.

Broadband internet access seeps into "every aspect of our lives," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

"This funding empowers New Mexico to continue to bridge the digital divide and create equal opportunities for our residents," Lujan Grisham said. "I'm grateful to President Biden and New Mexico's Congressional delegation for their roles in securing this funding for our state."