(TNS) -- Several state agencies have finalized plans for spending about $49 million to improve Internet access for New Mexico’s rural students by 2018, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Thursday.
Most of the money is the result of a 2014 bill sponsored by state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and then-Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. That bill called for spending $10 million annually from the public school capital outlay fund to provide broadband access for rural students statewide.
Stewart, who now serves in the state Senate, said Thursday’s announcement, which Martinez made during a visit to an elementary school in Bernalillo, signals that the planning stage is finished and funds will start flowing to schools.
In a news release, Martinez said, “As leaders, we must also give our students the tools they need to succeed. In 2015, that means providing every school with access to high-speed Internet. For many of New Mexico’s kids, this commitment will be a game changer, allowing our students to access tools and content where it matters most: in the classroom.”
Stewart, a former teacher, also believes high-speed Internet access for schools will continue to be important for students across the state, especially with the introduction of the computer-based tests through PARCC, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and an increase in online learning tools.
Internet access also is becoming increasingly important as student and teachers rely on technology in the classroom. For example, Santa Fe has started providing personal computers for most of its students, and all those devices will need access to the Internet.
Kareem Edwards, the president and CEO of ITConnect, a local company that provides technology for school districts across the state, said districts can’t be satisfied with the connections they have now.
“A lot of districts don’t realize what they’re going to need,” Edwards said. “The demand for bandwidth is only going to increase.”
While some districts across the state are struggling with Internet access, officials at some rural northern school districts said they already have adequate speeds.
In Mora, one of the most rural communities in the state, Superintendent Carlos Trujillo said his district already has broadband Internet access, though he worries that the district’s servers are getting older.
Fred Trujillo, superintendent of the Pecos schools, said Internet speeds in the community southeast of Santa Fe are “sufficient” but could need improvement in the future. He also said state support of Internet infrastructure means his district won’t have to cover as much of those technology costs and could invest in teacher salaries or other classroom materials.
Martinez’s announcement included news that the state will work with the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway in further developing the Internet rollout for rural schools. A news release stated that about 30 percent of New Mexico schools lack high-speed Internet.
The nonprofit and the state have started work at about a dozen schools, including those in the Artesia, Española and West Las Vegas districts.
Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the state Public Education Department, said the current baseline for high-speed Internet is 100 kilobits per second per student. A kilobit is a unit of data referring to Internet speed. The new standard in 2018 will be 1 megabit per second per student, McEntyre said.
Residents in rural New Mexico often struggle with accessing high-speed Internet at affordable prices. New Mexico has received more than $170 million in federal money targeted for installing fiber-optic cables and creating networks around the state.
Additionally, the state also built a fiber network called REDI Net, a $10 million project, to provide Internet access to hospitals, schools and community centers in rural portions of Rio Arriba, Los Alamos and Santa Fe counties.
©2015 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.