Some are seeking greater state investment in bringing broadband to rural areas, equating broadband as infrastructure that is no different from highways – items a community may not be able to build alone.
New U.S. Census Bureau data released earlier this month says New Mexico is among the least connected states to broadband in the nation.
New Mexico ranks No. 48, just ahead of Arkansas and Mississippi and one notch below West Virginia, with percentage of households with broadband Internet subscriptions in 2016.
The Census determined 73.7 percent of New Mexico household had broadband connections; the U.S. average was 81.4 percent. Washington state led the nation at 87.4 percent.
“Low broadband internet subscription rates were found in many counties in the upper Plains, the Southwest and South,” the Census wrote in its report.
The highspeedinternet.com website determined 91 percent of New Mexicans can get broadband internet. The broadbandnow.com website has 81 percent of New Mexico covered by broadband.
The gap between broadband availability and customer subscriptions reflects other Census findings that singled out Deming and Gallup among the half-dozen or so U.S. micropolitan areas (fewer than 50,000 residents) with the lowest income and highest poverty, respectively.
New Mexico’s issues with poverty and low income are evident throughout the state. Only Los Alamos County has less than 10 percent poverty. Otherwise, the state falls alongside Arizona, South Carolina and Delaware as the only states with no counties with less than 10 percent poverty.
On the broadband front, only Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Eddy counties have 75 to 85 percent of households with broadband subscriptions. Counties with broadband rates below 55 percent include Doña Ana, Socorro, Cibola, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Guadalupe, San Miguel, Mora and Harding – most with poverty rates between 26 and 37 percent.
“Generally, we are slow adapters,” said Simon Brackley, CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, whose economic development committee focuses on broadband connectivity. “It takes us a little longer to catch up. There is increased commitment by the state to increase Internet speed. I think some people who live in rural areas are not interested in broadband.”
However, the Albuquerque-based child advocacy organization New Mexico Voices for Children does not believe low incomes and poverty are the reason for New Mexico’s low broadband subscription rate.
“That’s an excuse, not a reason,” said James Jimenez, the group’s executive director. “One thing we have seen around the state, even in low-income communities, a lot of people still have a phone (despite the cost). Companies find a way of providing service people can afford.”
Jimenez said Voices is seeking greater state investment in bringing broadband to rural areas, equating broadband as infrastructure that is no different from highways – items a community may not be able to build alone.
“I would say there is a great opportunity with the state surplus to use those resources to invest in broadband infrastructure for rural communities,” Jimenez said. “We have a hollowing out of rural communities. One of the reasons for that is the lack of economic opportunities. One of the things the state can and should do is provide basic infrastructure.”
CenturyLink, among the largest Internet providers in New Mexico, did not talk specifics in the Census Bureau report, but said the company “is on track to have enabled more than 15,000 locations in FCC-designated, high-cost census blocks in New Mexico by the end of this year,” referring to where the cost of service is higher than can be supported from user rates alone.
Earlier this month, Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham, an outgoing member of the U.S. House of Representatives, lauded the inclusion in the Farm Bill of $500 million for a Community Connects Program, a broadband grant program to support construction of broadband infrastructure in communities private companies may not deem economically viable.
Lujan Grisham said in a statement the program will help rural areas of New Mexico.
“Expanding broadband access will grow New Mexico’s economy, create jobs, boost wages, improve health outcomes, support small business growth, help our students learn, increase crop yields and so much more,” she said.
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