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 been ignored For a long time.
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
NM broadband officials must provide the Federal Communications Commission with information on which areas of New Mexico have Internet access by Jan. 13 in order to receive the best funding consideration. This will be a national update card design the FCC released Friday, November 18 and will determine how much money New Mexico gets.
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 to turn over the information — despite the state having previously asked when the FCC needed the mapping information — and getting the team to change theirs get data together.
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.”
Other federal funds
The state broadband department has completed several other applications for federal funding projects that are in progress, said Schlegel. She said the state hasn’t received any money yet, but has been assured it will.
Since September, the department has awarded millions of dollars in grants to local electric companies to connect homes to the internet, many of which are in rural areas of the state.