LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico is no stranger to the fight for more internet access in rural communities. With the pandemic, Valencia County is seeing a greater need for a solution. A lot of people living in rural areas throughout Valencia County don’t have any internet options other than cell service. Now, county leaders are working with local municipalities to expand internet access.
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The first step is a pilot project. Tesa Mast is Valencia County’s IT Director. She says, “We’re starting with just the one tower. My plans for this is to maybe to get every single county buildings with one of these towers on so we’re able to cover all of the remote areas within the county.”
The pandemic made it even more difficult for people living in rural areas to continue their everyday activities. Nancy Jo Gonzales, the county’s Community Development Director shares. “People are extremely frustrated, they couldn’t work from home, some people couldn’t do the jobs that they were supposed to. So you have people really losing their livelihood over the lack of internet.”
The county plans on using money from the American Rescue Plan and is also working with local businesses for potential funding. Mast explains, “With those funds that we’re possibly going to be getting we will be able to put internet into over 800 people’s homes.”
Officials say poor internet access also poses a threat to people’s public safety and ability to utilize county resources. “If you’re not in a municipality with good internet access, you’re really not going to be able to contribute to really important things like the census which kind of starts that cycle over lack of funding,” says Gonzales.
Right now, there is a survey for residents to fill out on the Valencia County Admin and Government website so that leaders can understand where internet access is needed most. If this project is successful then this could go beyond Valencia County. Leaders say the city of Belen, the village of Los Lunas, and more surrounding areas will be able to utilize this resource, as well.
Valencia County is also planning on doing paper surveys and outreach at community centers so that people who lack internet access can give their input. Those dates are not yet determined.