SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Public Education Department has announced the launch of the New Mexico Student Connect program that aims to help students who lack high-speed broadband internet service or devices get internet access by accessing available federal assistance. In a press release, PED reports the program has already made calls to 1,000 students and families to determine if they have high-speed internet and digital devices and if they are aware of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program provides a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for households that are eligible and up to $75 per month on qualifying Tribal lands. Additionally, the FCC says that eligible households can receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a device from participating providers.

New Mexico Student Connect will help families apply for that benefit during outreach. Families can also contact a help desk by phone at 1-888-723-4505 or online for support with connectivity issues. The help desk provides support in English and Spanish and plans to also add support in Dine and Zuni.

PED reports that New Mexico Student Connect will begin assistance by working with the 23 focus groups that were identified in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit. The department states those districts include Alamogordo, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Cuba, Española, Gadsden, Gallup-McKinley, Grants-Cibola, Hatch, Jemez Valley, Lake Arthur, Las Cruces, Los Lunas, Magdalena, Moriarty-Edgewood, Peñasco, Pojoaque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Silver City, Taos, Tucumcari and Zuni.

Assistance will be expanded to additional districts in the near future. Following a digital survey by the PED to determine the need for digital devices and connectivity for at-risk students and their teachers the department compiled the information into a database.

The department states that preliminary analysis shows that almost 40,000 of about 199,000 students or 20% enrolled in the focus districts lack broadband internet service at home and about 12,000 or 6% lack the technological tools they need for successful learning. PED reports that it will continue to analyze the data to determine digital access for the entire state of New Mexico.

Additionally, an application window will open on July 1, 2021, for the Emergency Connectivity Fund which will provide support for broadband internet connectivity to off-campus locations. This federal program is available to schools, not individuals, and will cover costs for eligible schools to provide laptops and tablets, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity for off-campus use by students and staff.

PED explains this program will provide at least temporary connections for tens of thousands of New Mexico students. The department says it is working with the Department of Information Technology to find options for longer-term infrastructure.

PED reports that it has worked to distribute 6,282 Chromebooks, 102 Cradlepoint wireless routers and adapters, and has allocated funds for 101 mobile hotspots and 700 residential hot spots in Indigenous communities during the pandemic to expand digital access.