NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The pandemic exposed just how bad internet access is in many parts of New Mexico. However, when a local internet firm wanted to expand service last year, a state agency denied their request. New Mexico Surf offers wireless internet and says their current system on Sandia Crest is overloaded.
Last year, the New Mexico Department of Transportation denied their permit to build roadside utility poles for projects that would have expanded service in the east mountains. “That would cover the entire Sandia Park area that would allow us to give 100-meg service which a lot of the consumers only have maybe 5 meg, 10 meg with the current century local exchange carrier,” says Albert Caatnach, New Mexico Surf president.
“With the pandemic of course it became all too clear that we really need this for work for school and so what can we do,” says Floyd Vasquez, Bernalillo County communication services specialist.
NMDOT rejected New Mexico Surf’s application for a 40-foot utility pole last December. That pole would have helped provide wireless internet to people living off Highway 14 near the Paako Ridge Golf Course. Court documents say the state rejected the application, arguing that New Mexico Surf isn’t a public utility rendering essential services and isn’t allowed to build utility poles next to the highway.
This week, a federal judge ruled against NMDOT ordering them to issue construction permits. Catanach says had their application not been denied in the middle of the pandemic, people working and going to school remotely in the east mountains wouldn’t have had so many problems.
“There’s a bad need in New Mexico for broadband and the sooner we can get these permits and approvals the faster we can get broadband when there are emergencies like this, it’s not as hard on people for attending school wanting to work,” Catanach says.
New Mexico Surf says it will take about three months to get the pole installed and expand their wireless services. They say there is a chance that NMDOT could appeal the ruling.
KRQE News 13 reached out to both NMDOT and the governor’s office and both said they don’t comment on pending litigation.