With just over two million people living in New Mexico and almost 700,000 of them spread across rural regions, many New Mexico students still lack access to the high-speed broadband necessary to take advantage of digital learning in the classroom. The high cost of new fiber construction and the shortage of Internet service providers in these remote areas contribute to this connectivity gap. However, thanks to the $49 million in state appropriations that Governor Susana Martinez and the New Mexico legislature allocated to improving broadband infrastructure, the New Mexico Broadband for Education (BB4E) program is helping school districts upgrade their network infrastructure to get high-speed, affordable Internet to all schools.
In the past, bringing fiber to these rural schools has been a costly endeavor, as the number of potential customers the fiber would serve is often too small to justify the cost of construction. However, through the E-rate Modernization order, not only is the cost of upfront construction eligible for reimbursement, but the FCC program also provides additional funding to match state funding for special construction charges. In New Mexico, the state match funding for school connectivity comes from the state’s capital outlay funding pool, which is mostly derived from severance tax revenues on oil and gas extraction. New Mexico is one of the six states that currently has state match funding available for fiber network upgrades.
The New Mexico K-12 broadband working group, comprised of members of the Public Schools Facilities Authority (PSFA), the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED), and the Department of IT (DoIT), and EducationSuperHighway, worked together to develop and execute a program to assist schools through the upgrade process, including facilitating access to these state funds for eligible services.
Deming, New Mexico is one of the rural communities that will benefit from the special construction funding made available by the state. Deming Public Schools struggled to connect one school that lacked access to high-speed broadband. Because the school is 31 miles from the district hub, the district could not afford to connect the school via fiber to the district Wide Area Network. Local service provider, Valley Telecom, took advantage of the E-rate special construction funds, as well as the state match funding to connect Columbus Elementary School to the district hub. Deming Public Schools will pay no upfront construction costs to connect Columbus Elementary and is only responsible for the monthly service fees from the provider.
With the additional state match funding that New Mexico has contributed, many districts across the state will finally be able to afford the fiber construction necessary to connect their schools to scalable broadband and ensure students can take advantage of the promise of digital learning.