American Rescue Plan Helps Connect New Mexico

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, December 16, 2022

Weekly Digest

American Rescue Plan Helps Connect New Mexico

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of December 12-16, 2022

Kevin Taglang

"We must and we will provide every New Mexican with quality and affordable broadband service."

—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)

New Mexico relies on broadband to connect its extensive rural areas and important rural industries. Quality broadband connections allow the oil and gas industry to operate more safely and efficiently than ever before, and enhanced broadband can enable cost-saving measures without compromising safety. Similarly, large ranches and farms require broadband for high-end uses such as precision agriculture applications and robotic harvesters. Smaller ranches and farms need quality broadband connections for many of the same reasons as other small business owners, including direct sales; marketing and logistical management; professional training; and providing their families with health care, educational, and social opportunities.

For over a decade, New Mexico has been taking steps to improve broadband in all areas of the state. But state broadband programs have struggled because of a lack of consistent funding and clear mandates. In 2020, CTC Technology & Energy estimated it will cost between $2 billion and $5 billion to bring fiber-based broadband to all of rural New Mexico.

This month, New Mexico received over $100 million through the federal American Rescue Plan Act's Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to fuel broadband deployment.

New Mexico's Digital Divide

The June 2020 State of New Mexico Broadband Strategic Plan and Rural Broadband Assessment estimated that 196,000 locations in New Mexico—20 percent of the State’s approximately 940,000 homes and businesses—were unserved by broadband. But unserved areas of the state, mostly rural areas, struggle to attract private investment capital in infrastructure because of high capital costs per user. New Mexico lags behind its neighboring states with respect to broadband options available to residents, in part because fewer providers serve tribal and rural areas.

New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion

In April 2021, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) signed the Broadband Access and Expansion Act, creating the New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion charged with:

  • establishing standards for quality of service for homes, businesses, and public institutions,
  • creating and maintaining an official, publicly accessible online New Mexico broadband access map showing broadband availability and quality of service for homes, businesses, and public institutions on a county-by-county basis, 
  • creating and maintaining a repository for broadband data and information in New Mexico on a county-by-county basis of both unserved and underserved homes and businesses, and
  • developing (and updating annually) a three-year statewide broadband plan.

The New Mexico broadband office also provides technical and planning assistance to local governments, public educational institutions, and state agencies in the design, development, or implementation of their own plans for broadband service.

Finally, the broadband office coordinates all state and local broadband efforts by:

  • identifying federal and nongovernmental broadband funding assistance opportunities for local governments, public educational institutions, state agencies, and tribal governments,
  • acting as the applicant for such funding assistance for all state agencies,
  • coordinating the purchase of broadband infrastructure and services for state agencies and public educational institutions with the goal of implementing bulk pricing agreements,
  • developing proposals for government agencies at the local, county, and state levels to build and pay for broadband networks, and 
  • creating a uniform system of permits, licenses, and regulation of rights of way for broadband infrastructure across all governmental jurisdictions within each region of the state, with the goal of creating uniform permitting and licensing requirements statewide.

Connect New Mexico Programs

Also in April 2021, Gov. Lujan Grisham signed the Connect New Mexico Act, establishing the Connect New Mexico Fund and the Connect New Mexico Council, which will provide state grant funding for broadband infrastructure statewide and conduct and enact oversight and accountability requirements. Council members represent state agencies, both houses of the state legislature, the governor, and Tribal governments. The council is charged with consulting stakeholders to develop—by August 1, 2023—a digital equity analysis and plan to address:

  1. the challenges to digital inclusion that are posed by the lack of affordable quality service, broadband-enabled devices, or the knowledge of how to use the devices effectively in different age, cultural or geographic populations across the state;
  2. the federal and private sector programs that could be applied to by state agencies or local or tribal governments to address these challenges; and
  3. existing state programs or state programs that could be established that address or could leverage federal and private sector programs to address these challenges.

The digital equity plan is to be incorporated into the statewide broadband plan by January 1, 2024.

Pilot Program

The Connect New Mexico Act also created the Connect New Mexico Fund. Money in the fund is subject to appropriation by the legislature to the council for the purpose of administering the state's broadband grant program: the Connect New Mexico Pilot Program, which aims to bridge the digital divide and foster socioeconomic progress by providing infrastructure grants for broadband deployment to unserved and underserved communities across New Mexico. Awardees are required to provide 25 percent in matching funds.

The first wave of pilot program awards was announced in November 2022 with $38.6 million in funding matched by $28.3 million in nonstate funding for a total investment of $66.9 million, with plans to expand access to more than 13,400 homes, businesses, farms, ranches, and community institutions across New Mexico. Awardees included Comcast, Ethos Broadband/Sacred Wind Communications, Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative, and Socorro Electric Cooperative. 

The pilot program closed the second wave of its three-wave funding round on December 9, 2022. The New Mexico Office of Broadband received 12 applications to expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas in New Mexico. The first wave, which closed in September 2022 and attracted over $90 million in funding requests, awarded nearly $30 million in grant support in November. A third wave is open through February 27, 2023, with all awards for waves 1 through 3 to be issued by Spring 2023.

The pilot program includes a merit review process whereby each application is subjected to expert scrutiny and competitive scoring based upon a rubric that weighs various project attributes including: project impact, community engagement, economic efficiency,  organization qualifications, project readiness, project sustainability, adoption assistance programs, and marketing and services strategy.

To ensure that all pilot program projects are confined to unserved or underserved areas, the New Mexico broadband office is running a complementary mapping review process. This process publishes all proposed pilot program project service areas in an interactive map, inviting feedback from incumbent broadband providers, fellow applicants, and other stakeholders—including the general public and potential customers—regarding the eligibility of all proposed projects.

The scoring, review process, and pilot program all closely follow the statutory parameters of the Connect New Mexico Broadband Grant Program, established by the Connect New Mexico Act and currently supported by a $70 million state general revenue fund appropriation. 

American Rescue Plan Support

New Mexico is dedicating 88% of its Capital Projects Fund allocation to broadband deployment

On December 8, the U.S. Treasury approved New Mexico's plan to use $117 million in Capital Projects Fund support for Connect New Mexico Broadband. Connect New Mexico Broadband is a competitive grant program designed to build broadband infrastructure to areas of the state without access to reliable wireline service; supported networks will provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. The state estimates the funding will connect an estimated 40,611 households and businesses—representing 21 percent of locations in New Mexico still lacking high-speed internet access. Each of the internet service providers funded by the program will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)—a $30 per month subsidy for qualifying low-income households (up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands). 

“By expanding broadband infrastructure, we’re also expanding access to health care, education, and economic opportunity in New Mexico communities, which is especially critical in a rural state like ours,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “I’m incredibly grateful to the Biden administration and New Mexico’s congressional delegation for their work in securing these federal resources.”

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Dec 16—ACP Outreach Grant Program Office Hours (FCC)

Dec 16—ROBIN Grant Program Overview (Michigan High-Speed Internet Office)

Dec 16—Forming successful partnerships with ISPs (National Broadband Resource Hub)

Jan 03—118th Congress convenes

Jan 04—ACP Outreach Grant Program Office Hours (FCC)

Jan 19—How Can Policymakers Deter Fake Online Reviews? (Center for Data Innovation)

Jan 24—Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund Listening Session

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.