New Mexico broadband bill passes first committee

Despite investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, access to broadband services has remained out of reach for many New Mexicans in rural and impoverished areas. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated that problem, especially when it comes to public school students trying to learn remotely. 

That’s the message members of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee heard from a number of lawmakers, experts and members of the public during a Tuesday hearing on the issue. “We don’t need to talk about the need, we need to talk about the how — how are we going to do this?” said Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque. 

Figueroa is one of five House legislators, all Democrats, pushing for passage of House Bill 10, an initiative that would create a broadband division within the New Mexico Department of Information Technology. The committee voted 8-1 to approve the measure, sending it on to the House Appropriations Committee. 

That proposed department would serve as a center of operations to provide planning and technical assistance to local governments, state agencies and public education institutions to develop and initiate broadband programs. Assistance will include guidance in applying for funding for such initiatives. 

The goal, Figueroa said, is to create a central state agency focused on expanding affordable broadband access to all parts of the state.

Yazzie-Martinez plaintiffs want court to order state to address remote learning issues

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over educational resources in New Mexico filed a request with the First Judicial District Court on Wednesday to order the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to thousands of at risk students who lack tools for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lacks broadband internet service, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP). The nonprofit, which is providing legal counsel to the plaintiffs of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, estimated that 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands do not have internet services at all. Florena Valencia, of the San Felipe Pueblo, and her three daughters are one Native American family who lack internet at home. Valencia sat with her three daughters in her hot car in the warmer months while her children tried to learn remotely, she said.