New Mexico Infrastructure Report Fails to Incorporate Broadband Access

August 29 – As with other states seeking to promote the availability of high-speed internet access in a broadband-centered world, New Mexico is struggling just to keep up.

Broadband Census New Mexico

This is the tenth of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and broadband data, within each of the United States. Among the next profiles: Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

August 29 – As with other states seeking to promote the availability of high-speed internet access in a broadband-centered world, New Mexico is struggling just to keep up.

Despite boasting one of the world’s premier centers for science and research at Los Alamos National Laboratory and experiencing a recent population boom, New Mexico remains far behind the rest of the country in broadband and digital deployment. According to a report by the Kauffman Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the state ranks 46th in percentage of internet users, 49th in e-government, and 36th in broadband telecommunications.

New Mexico’s deficit in broadband infrastructure is particularly glaring. According to Federal Communications Commission statistics, only 78% of New Mexicans have access to digital subscriber line (DSL) service and only 77% have access to cable modem service – well below the national averages of 82% and 96%, respectively.

And the quality of service received when broadband connectivity is available is 15% slower than the national average, according to the Communications Workers of America’s Speed Matters web site.

In capital Santa Fe, policy-makers are beginning to focus on the state broadband situation. In 2006, Governor Bill Richardson appointed Thomas Bowles as his science and technology adviser, stating that “New Mexico is becoming a national leader in the high tech field and Tom Bowles will help further this progress.”

Sources close to Bowles say that the technology advisor seeks to drive innovation through technology, and that he understands the importance of improving broadband infrastructure as a part of this agenda, yet two years later the state has yet to produce a strategy for improving broadband connectivity.

“New Mexico has an opportunity to set national examples when it comes to broadband networks,” said Richard Lowenberg, a broadband expert and state consultant. Lowenberg is a long-time advocate for high-speed, open fiber networks who has worked with Japanese broadband officials. Japanese broadband has been noted for offering particularly high speeds at low costs.

There are multiple initiatives throughout New Mexico to develop municipal broadband wireless networks, community fiber networks, and funding through Department of Agriculture and its Rural Utility Service. These grants deliver broadband to rural areas and to Navajo and Pueblo reservations. Lowenberg believes that a comprehensive plan that integrates and builds on these efforts is what is now needed.

“The key is an economic model that aggregates demand, integrates systems like energy systems, and seeks out applications that help pay for these networks so that they can reach everybody,” Lowenberg said.

Besides telecommunications carriers, energy utilities, railroads, highway authorities and backbone data infrastructure providers should all be involved in a state broadband policy, said Lowenberg. Any broadband mapping project would need to consider all possible infrastructure that could be utilized in a state-wide effort to expand and enhance broadband services.

Lowenberg would like to see New Mexico “work towards a comprehensive infrastructure that gets us to where we want to be in 10 years.”

Governor Richardson has developed a plan, dubbed Invest New Mexico, to offer solutions to New Mexico’s “perfect storm of infrastructure problems.” However, the 55-page Invest New Mexico report fails to consider and integrate improvements in broadband infrastructure as part of the state-wide plan.

The Invest New Mexico initiative asks “what infrastructure can we invest in to expand our economy?” Yet the answers that it poses have nothing to do with the potential that many others see in deploying faster and better broadband infrastructure.

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