ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico has the highest percentage of residents in the U.S. Southwest without adequate broadband internet service, a problem highlighted Monday by the Biden administration as it looks to infuse more than $2 trillion into infrastructure projects nationwide.
The administration released details about each state’s needs for everything from internet access to highways, affordable housing and drinking water projects. In New Mexico, the federal government estimates that 22% of residents live in areas where there’s no broadband infrastructure that provides acceptable internet speeds. Nearly 70% are in areas where there’s only one such internet provider.
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted connectivity problems over the past year as schools turned to remote learning and other services were forced to go online only. About one in five New Mexico households do not have an internet subscription, according to the administration’s summary.
Around the Southwest, the percentages of households without subscriptions are much lower — ranging from around 9% in Utah and Colorado to 13% in Arizona and 14% in Nevada.
Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat who chairs a congressional subcommittee that has been focusing on the digital divide, recently introduced legislation with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would reimburse schools for installing Wi-Fi on buses.
Luján also introduced a measure that would authorize $5 billion for a program that makes low-interest financing available for broadband infrastructure projects.
Luján said at a hearing last month that the goal should be “100% connectivity” with fast, affordable internet nationwide. He told the story of a New Mexico middle school student who had to sit in the sun all day to connect to Wi-Fi and ended up with heatstroke.
Luján told The Associated Press in an email Monday that bridging the divide, tackling the homework gap and promoting digital equity are longstanding priorities.
“Broadband has quickly become an essential utility, making it possible for students to learn, doctors to provide life-saving care, and businesses to keep their doors open during this pandemic,” he said. “Sadly, in too many communities across our state, we’re falling short of connecting every New Mexican.”
The state-by-state needs outlined by the Biden administration indicate a massive backlog after years of repairs being deferred and delayed. Most states received a letter grade on their infrastructure, with the highest grade of C-plus going to Georgia and Utah.
New Mexico did not get a grade, but the summary indicated that its 207 bridges and more than 3,800 miles (6,115 kilometers) of highway are in poor condition and costing drivers $767 per year on average.
Over the next two decades, New Mexico’s drinking water infrastructure will require an estimated $1.4 billion in additional funding. More than half of residents live in places where child care is hard to find, and 126,000 renters are spending more than 30% of their income on rent due to a lack of affordable housing.