New Mexico scrambles to meet federal deadline to map internet gaps – The Durango Herald

A worker installs pipes for laying fiber optic cables underground during the installation of broadband infrastructure in rural Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

New Mexico’s broadband director says hundreds of millions in federal funds could be at stake

Data errors and an inability to keep up with the demands of a federal program could result in the state missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars that would expand broadband in underserved areas of New Mexico.

Kelly Schlegel is the state’s director of broadband. She spoke to the Legislative Science, Technology and Telecom Committee on Thursday about staffing issues that could prevent a full internet rollout.

New Mexico is participating in a national high-speed Internet project to bring broadband to areas that don’t have it or lack fast, reliable Internet. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration allocates funds to allow states to deploy or expand broadband access in these underserved or unserved locations.

Many of New Mexico’s neediest regions are rural communities, and some say they have long been ignored.

But the state is struggling to keep up with the program’s proposed schedules. Schlegel said the broadband division needs more staff to solve problems so the state can get the money it needs to fully roll out the Internet.

Officials need to figure out internet access in the state

Officials of New Mexico’s broadband network must provide the Federal Communications Commission with information about which areas of New Mexico have Internet access by January 13 in order to receive the best funding consideration. This will update a national draft map released by the FCC on Friday, November 18 and determine how much money New Mexico will receive.

But Schlegel said the broadband division found a number of errors in New Mexico’s FCC card detailing broadband access. She said the department likely doesn’t currently have enough staff to fix the issue by the program’s target date of mid-January.

“It’s so important to get the cards right and our cards aren’t really there yet,” she said.

Administration spokesman Charlie Meisch Jr. acknowledged that the office and Schlegel as director are fairly new and said the agency is still trying to support them. “We’re there to try to address these issues and make sure they have the information and resources they need,” he said.

But Schlegel said the federal agency suddenly announced the January deadline, giving New Mexico only two months’ notice to turn the information around — despite the state having previously asked when the FCC needed the mapping information — prompting the team to change theirs to compile data.

Meisch said the January deadline isn’t really a hard deadline, just the best time for states to submit internet information. However, the agency wants to move the program forward quickly, he said. “Every day that goes by that someone doesn’t have access comes at a cost,” he said.

Schlegel said she believes the state’s mapping problems could cause New Mexico to miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars. That could potentially leave thousands of people without internet access in the dark.

Meisch declined to comment on whether a filing after the January date could result in New Mexico missing out on money.

Overall, Schlegel hopes New Mexico is hoping for at least $700 million. The minimum amount that states can receive is $100 million. This money allows New Mexico to award grants to communications companies for broadband deployment and expansion.

But she said, “Right now I’m worried we’re missing a couple hundred million dollars.”

She said the broadband division essentially waved a red flag at lawmakers Thursday.

“We don’t want New Mexico to lose a dollar,” she said.

And lawmakers were receptive to the news. Many raised concerns and potential solutions, e.g. B. who could help to solve the card problems. Senator Michael Padilla (D-Albuquerque), chair of the committee, said that this important data cannot be wrong, which would cause the state to lose so much money.

“It’s a big deal,” Padilla said. “We can not permit that.”

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