NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The state has seen announcement after announcement of millions of dollars being put towards broadband expansion. But money only goes so far. Now, a federal report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is shedding light on why progress on broadband expansion takes so long despite funding.
More than $1 billion in federal funding has been authorized for middle-mile infrastructure across the U.S., according to the GAO. That “middle mile” is the gap between global internet providers and local users. And it’s particularly challenging to cover that gap in parts of New Mexico.
Some of the challenges are physical. For example, near El Malpais National Monument west of Albuquerque, the rocky volcanic landscape makes installing infrastructure tough. “We heard from providers that areas around El Malpais National Monument with old lava flows experience challenges using both fixed wireless (because of interference caused by the lava rocks) and buried fiber (because of the rocky terrain). Thus, they rely on placing fiber on utility poles,” the GAO report notes.
Some of the challenges are bureaucratic. “One [Internet] provider in New Mexico stated that permitting approval could take 2 to 3 years,” the report says. “In New Mexico, providers must work with local, state, tribal, federal, and private landowners. Some stakeholders told us that each of these jurisdictions has separate permitting requirements that can create challenges to middle-mile deployment.”
New Mexico isn’t alone in facing challenges, the report notes. But with a wide range of geographic diversity and intertwining federal, local, and tribal jurisdictions, New Mexico faces unique challenges that some other states don’t. Still, the state moves forward with a range of programs aimed at overcoming those challenges.