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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

New Mexico lags behind most southwestern states in internet connectivity, especially in our tribal and rural areas. The pandemic created an even bigger gap in internet inequity for school kids and those working from home. In an effort to tackle this issue and provide access in the state’s most remote and disadvantaged neighborhoods, the Biden Administration has introduced a new federal $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. According to the state’s Public Health Department, an estimated 75 percent of New Mexican families could be eligible for the program. Enrollment for the program, which starts on May 12, will allow tens of thousands of New Mexicans to make a one-time purchase of a computer with a significant discount and possibly receive discounted internet as well.

“This could amount to tens of millions of dollars to help families pay for the connectivity and devices their students need to learn in a digital age,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said. The switch to online learning for many New Mexican students placed pressure on one of the least connected states in the region.

According to a summary by the Biden Administration, 22 percent of New Mexican residents live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure. Nearly 70 percent of New Mexicans live in areas where there is only one internet provider. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program seeks to address these endemic problems faced by many New Mexicans. “We want to make sure families know about and take advantage of this program, which, along with other initiatives, will go a long way toward closing the digital divide in New Mexico,” said Stewart. The program will also help pay for broadband service for those who are eligible.

To qualify for assistance, families and individuals must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • A household that receives benefits under the free and reduced school lunch program.
  • Any household that received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
  • Have a household income of less than $99,000 for a single-filer and a household income of less than $198,000 for joint filers while also experiencing a significant reduction in income since February 29, 2020.
  • Already meets the eligibility requirement for a participating provider and existing low-income or COVID-19 internet connectivity program.

Families that meet at least one of these requirements can expect to receive either a $50 monthly discount on internet services, a $75 discount monthly discount on broadband services if they live on tribal land and a one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, desktop, or tablet through one of the programs providers. 

38 New Mexico internet providers have signed up for the program. A list of those providers in New Mexico can be found here.

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