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New Mexico Lawmakers Examine Broadband Expansion Strategies

State Sen. Michael Padilla said that he hopes to propose legislation next year establishing a state agency to take the lead on expanding broadband Internet in New Mexico — a key recommendation of legislative analysts.

by Dan McKay, Albuquerque Journal / August 18, 2020

(TNS) — New Mexico State Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque said Monday that he hopes to propose legislation next year establishing a state agency to take the lead on expanding broadband internet service in New Mexico — a key recommendation of legislative analysts.

The new office would be empowered to coordinate efforts now scattered across at least seven state agencies.

Padilla, a Democrat, said he is weighing whether the new broadband office would report directly to the governor or to the Cabinet secretary of information technology. But it’s clear, he said, that something must be done to expand internet service and reduce costs.

“We are hearing loud and clear that broadband is just as important as air for our people here in New Mexico,” Padilla said in an interview Monday.

The importance of high-speed internet service has come into particular focus during the coronavirus pandemic as New Mexicans turn more heavily to distance learning and telehealth programs that require online video conferencing. Broadband, Padilla said, is also critical to economic development.

New Mexico lags the nation in access to broadband, according to analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee. In a report to lawmakers Monday, the analysts said about 77% of the state’s households had a broadband subscription in 2018, about eight percentage points below the national average.

Legislative analysts also said New Mexico lacks coordination and oversight of broadband development efforts, with responsibilities spread among the Public Regulation Commission and state departments for public education, transportation, information technology and other agencies.

The state and federal governments funded about $325 million in broadband projects in New Mexico over a recent four-year period, analysts said, but without having one agency in charge to track the money and ensure accountability.

Unlike New Mexico, the analysts said, model states with high rates of broadband access have a lead agency established in law with a director appointed by the governor.

Members of the legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee heard a report on the issue Monday.

Padilla, the chairman, said he has been working on legislation to improve coordination and accelerate the state’s broadband development for about a year and half. The new agency, he said, could pay for itself by reducing the cost of broadband through bulk-price agreements and working to secure federal funding and private investment.

In the Nov. 3 election, Padilla faces Republican Mary Kay Ingham in Senate District 14, which covers much of the South Valley and southwestern Bernalillo County.

©2020 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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