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Federal Grant Will Help New Mexico Expand Broadband Access

New Mexico lags behind peer states with regard to its broadband access, in part because of its large swaths of rural and tribal areas, according to a report by the Department of Information Technology earlier this year.

by Stephen Hamway, Albuquerque Journal / October 8, 2020
Shutterstock/Sopotnicki

(TNS) — A recently announced federal grant is intended to help New Mexico come up with a plan to add broadband capacity in one of the most underserved states in the country.

The federal Economic Development Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce, has awarded a $1.5 million grant to the New Mexico Department of Information Technology.

The EDA’s Dana Gartzke said the grant will help the state bring together stakeholders and develop a plan to expand broadband Internet in underserved parts of the state.

“In New Mexico, expanding access to broadband is really needed more than ever,” Gartzke told the Journal Wednesday.

New Mexico lags behind peer states with regard to its broadband access, in part because of its large swaths of rural and tribal areas, according to a report published by DoIT earlier this year. The report notes the state ranks 42nd in the nation for broadband coverage by one metric, with as much as 22% of the population unserved.

Gartzke said the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of Internet access in maintaining connections and attracting businesses as more industries shift to remote work.

“This pandemic has highlighted how important it is to connect to the outside world,” Gartzke said.

The grant will provide planning money and help fund technical assistance for the state and its partners. Gartzke said there is no specific timeline for when the funds must be used, but he said he’s hopeful that the funds eventually allow New Mexico to eliminate or dramatically reduce the portions of the state without Internet access.

He likened the project to federal rural electrification programs in the middle of the 20th century.

“(That project) was very intent on making sure rural America could participate in the American Dream,” Gartzke said. “The Internet is now part of that vision.”

The grant is separate from the $1.5 million grant announced by the Department of Commerce last week, which will fund two new state positions and a long-term plan to help the state diversify its economy in the wake of the pandemic.

However, Gartzke said the two pools of money, both funded by the federal CARES Act, fit together. He said the first grant will help the state identify areas where it can build capacity and identify strengths beyond the oil and gas industry, while the second grant will help develop the broadband capacity to make that possible.

“All of this is aimed toward … having a better foundation for better resiliency if something like this were to happen again,” Gartzke said.

©2020 the Albuquerque Journal, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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