Can New Mexico Provide Internet to Over 47,000 Students?

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It is very difficult for students to succeed in school without access to the Internet – a fact that thousands of New Mexico students learned with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, New Mexico agencies identified the addresses of nearly 50,000 students who were unable to participate in online learning due to a lack of internet access. Now, the state is making internet available to more than 40,000 of those homes.

Last year, a New Mexico judge ordered the state’s Department of Public Education to access the Internet for at-risk students in nearly two dozen school districts. It was part of the Yazzie/Martinez v. suit. State of New Mexico, where the court found that the state had failed to provide adequate education and protection to at-risk New Mexico students.

In response to the order, the Department of Public Education (PED), which works with businesses and other government agencies, has been on a mission to connect New Mexico students. Recent mapping efforts have identified 49,376 student residences that lack adequate internet access.

KRQE News 13 analysis of federal data reveals that while all of Albuquerque have access to an average advertised speed of at least 25 Mbps, Internet access drops dramatically outside of urban areas. Currently, about 10% of New Mexicans live in areas where lower speeds are not available, according to the White House. KRQE News 13 analysis shows that much of the western part of the country has limited access.


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Cities in central and southern New Mexico have broadband coverage that meets the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum (pink) speed limit, according to provider data. But coverage of most parts of the state is poor. Outside of the pink areas, there may be providers that offer speeds greater than 25Mbps, but the average advertised speed across all providers is below the FCC minimum. Data from service providers, reported to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) via Form 477 and NMRGIS. (Image created by Curtis Segarra for KRQE.com)


“This is nothing new but since the pandemic has taken place, it has really highlighted how profound the situation is,” Erica Surova, director of the Center for Community Analysis at New Mexico State University, told KRQE News 13 in an interview last year. Her team looked at the so-called “digital divide” that existed even before the pandemic highlighted connectivity problems. “Before the pandemic, one in four students — one in four families in New Mexico — did not have an Internet subscription,” she said.

To address this issue, the Department of Public Education, the Department of Information Technology, and the Public School Facilities Authority came together to figure out how to boost access across New Mexico. And their solution: Use all the tools available to connect children to the Internet.

They have already laid more than 844 miles of fiber-optic cable and deployed 6,000 WiFi hotspots, according to PED. For homes in remote areas, they have also provided hundreds of satellite internet connections.

“Communication efforts are underway,” Public Education Minister Kurt Steinhaus said in a press release on Monday. “With our partners, we have deployed every viable option to bridge the digital divide that has prevented so many New Mexico students from accessing learning during the global pandemic. This work is not finished, but it is amazing what has been done with so much working together to reach such an urgent goal. The important thing.”

The department expects the federal funds to help fill the remaining gaps. Schools across the state have applied for tens of millions of federal dollars, according to the PED. They expect that this money will buy more than 2,000 modems and routers as well as more than 100,000 laptops and tablets.

The state and New Mexico students are still waiting for this federal funding. There is no set timetable for when it will arrive.

“The timing of the federal compensation, through these requests, is out of our hands. We hope all the funding will be distributed sooner rather than later,” PED spokeswoman Jodi Robinson told KRQE News 13.

Once it arrives, PED expects the state’s digital divide to shrink dramatically. Once the projected federal funding is distributed, only 7,293 students from New Mexico will still lack high-speed Internet at home, according to PED estimates. That’s less than tens of thousands of students. PED estimates that only 69 students will be left without an internet connection and a device to connect to the web.

“We focus on hard-to-reach homes and families, but we haven’t given up,” PED’s Steinhaus said. “We work with every family in New Mexico to make sure every child has the 21st century tools they need to learn.”

The state’s effort to bring New Mexico online parallels a similar federal effort. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — the group responsible for regulating internet providers — recently made “bridging the digital divide” a top priority, according to a 2020 report.

“High-speed broadband and the digital opportunity it provides can be essential to innovation, economic opportunity, healthcare, and civic engagement in today’s modern society,” their report states. This is consistent with the Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act, which states that “Access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband is essential to fully participate in modern life in the United States.”

However, the data shows that it will likely be a long time before all New Mexicans have stable, affordable, high-speed access, if any. After all, having an infrastructure does not necessarily mean that all New Mexicans will be able to use it.

Data from the FCC shows that even in urban centers, such as Albuquerque, the number of homes with access to download speeds of more than 150 megabits per second (Mbps) is relatively low. And of course, even if you live in an area where internet providers advertise high speed, there are sometimes outages or other issues.


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Average speeds vary across Albuquerque, with a few regions seeing average download speeds above 150Mbps. Data from FCC Form 477, as reported by Internet providers and NMRGIS. (Image created by Curtis Segarra for KRQE.com)


Since 2019, the FCC has received more than 400 complaints about internet speeds and access from New Mexicans, their complaint data shows. They already received nearly 100 complaints in 2022, from Mescalero, New Mexico, to Taos, and a dozen cities in between.

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