February 10, 2023

Bill to expand Rural Telecommunications Act advances

The House Rural Development, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee approved a bill expanding the Rural Telecommunications Act on a 6-0 vote Thursday.

HB 206 was sponsored by Rep. Joseph L. Sanchez, D-Alcalde.

The bill would expand access to rural customers to have a landline for broadband access. 

“(The bill) amends the Rural Telecommunication Act of New Mexico,” Sanchez said. “The bill also provides for the use of the state Rural Universal Fund for consumer broadband-only loops. This allows small rural carriers to offer broadband and the customer not have to maintain a dial tone phone as well.”

Sanchez also proposed an amendment to address an issue in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report.

The amendment caps the total number of access lines able to receive access reduction support.

“This means that there will be no increase in the access reduction support payments with this legislation,” Sanchez said.

The Fiscal Impact Report shows HB 206’s general fund impact is “indeterminate but substantial” as the bill does not include an appropriation.

“Depending on the number of applicants and the (Public Regulation Commission) vetting process, there may be limitations for the use of the state rural universal service fund so estimated budgetary impacts on that fund are indicated as indeterminate but substantial given the increased demand on the fund in recent years,” the report states.”PRC notes in the last five years, broadband projects in the amount of approximately $5 million were funded in 2018, $4.6 million in 2019, $13.9 million in 2020, $11.5 million in 2021, and $11.9 million in 2022.”

The PRC would have an added administrative issue by having to implement need-based criteria, the report states.

The bill was approved as amended.