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The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

Stimulus helps plug NM’s digital divide

State to see $40 million-plus in broadband stimulus funds

 

New Mexico Business Weekly

by Kevin Robinson-Avila NMBW Staff

Friday, April 2, 2010

 

Managers at the Peñasco Valley Telecommunications Cooperative in Artesia joke that it’s cheaper to relocate rural families to cities than it is to bring high-speed Internet to the desert.

Terry Mullins, vice president for sales and marketing, said the high cost of installing infrastructure in sparsely populated southeastern New Mexico greatly limits Peñasco’s ability to offer broadband there. But the cooperative just obtained a $4.7 million grant and a $4.8 million loan through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to extend fiber and wireless technology in its service area.

“It’s an expensive proposition to lay down fiber in such remote places,” Mullins said. “We cover such a wide area that we haven’t been able to reach many people. Without the grant money, we just couldn’t do it.”

Peñasco is one of four in-state companies to receive stimulus funds for broadband development.

The federal government approved about $40 million in grants and loans for New Mexico in its first round of funding, which concluded in March. That’s just 13 percent of the $310 million that telecom companies and state agencies requested in grant applications.

Tom Bowles, Gov. Bill Richardson’s science adviser on loan from Los Alamos National Laboratory, said it’s not realistic to expect more, given that the U.S. Commerce Department received 1,800 applications for $19 billion in projects nationwide.

The ARRA earmarked $7.2 billion for broadband investments, with $3 billion available in the first round.

Still, the loans and grants that were approved will have a significant impact in New Mexico, Bowles said. The money will help link remote zones to a high-speed network the government is creating statewide through computer centers, or gateways, that connect to the supercomputer in Rio Rancho.

“We didn’t get nearly what was requested, but what we did get will allow us to build out critically needed infrastructure in key areas,” Bowles said. “The stimulus projects will establish fiber rings in specific districts. We’ll link up the statewide fiber ring that we’re building with these smaller, remote fiber rings.”

Along with Peñasco Valley, three other companies in western, eastern and northern New Mexico got stimulus money: