March 1, 2024

Benjamin Better

Better Get Computer

Rural areas need money for expanded broadband access

In New Mexico, only 77 percent of households have a broadband subscription, according to a  census report released in April, though some industry observers think the numbers are actually lower. That compares with 85 percent nationally. And even for those who are connected, the service doesn’t come cheap. Only 13 percent of New Mexico’s population has access to a low-price internet service plan, according to Broadband Now, a research group.

The state’s rugged landscape, its patchwork of state, federal and tribal land ownership, and the minimal coordination between internet providers and government agencies combine to keep New Mexico consistently near the bottom on national surveys measuring internet access in homes.

When New Mexico’s children were suddenly required to attend school via the internet in March 2020, it went badly for many of them. Families spent the school day in fast-food parking lots, outside libraries or on top of mesas trying to catch a signal. Some students were never heard from for the rest of that school year. And those who could connect were often plagued by slow download speeds and frequently interrupted service. Versions of the same story played out across rural America, making the problem impossible to ignore.

Related: Homework in a McDonald’s parking lot — Inside one mother’s fight to help her kids get an education during coronavirus