Ben Ray Lujan, Courtesy BRL Facebook
Ben Ray Lujan, Courtesy BRL Facebook

Submitted by U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

All of us know the difference between fast internet, slow internet, and no internet. For many of us, accessible and affordable internet is the key to opening doors to new opportunities. Our small businesses, our health care system and our schools suffer without access to reliable broadband.

We also know that investments in broadband buildout to the home allow children to thrive at school. So much learning was lost when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and students couldn’t access the internet. Too many communities lacked the resources and infrastructure they needed to preserve the learning process online.

Since then, Congress and FCC have worked together to build out broadband to equip students across New Mexico with the access they need. Over 90% of households served by the Zuni Pueblo School District have signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit. These programs enable schools across New Mexico to better serve students and help them achieve their dreams, regardless of where they live.

Reliable broadband was already important before the COVID-19 pandemic threw not just schools, but so much of our lives online. In 2022, it is essential – not only for our children to learn, but for many parents to go to work and participate in the economy.

The United States Congress, working together with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has gone to great lengths to bridge the digital divide in New Mexico. The historic and bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act outlines a strong plan to move toward 100% connectivity across the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico will receive at least $100 million for broadband buildout and further funding.

There is still much work to be done, but measures like this will give New Mexicans the tools they need to succeed in the digital economy.

This package will provide internet access to more than 220,000 New Mexicans with a focus on rural and Tribal communities. And, 785,000 New Mexicans – nearly 40% of the state – will be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which will help working families afford internet access. This program, established by Congress and administered by the FCC, helps ensure households can afford the broadband they need for school, work, and health care.

Both in Congress’ legislation and in the FCC’s implementation, we have a shared commitment to closing the digital divide with affordable, resilient, and secure broadband. By focusing on telehealth access and the prevention of dangerous broadband outages, the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband put forth provisions in the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure package to best serve New Mexicans.

In turn, the FCC works tirelessly to administer these programs and promote innovation and competition, yielding not only affordable internet but also the best possible service.

This week’s broadband roundtable with the Connect New Mexico Council and hosted at the University of New Mexico shared success stories and discussed solutions for further funding and growth. The panelists gathered from across New Mexico to share their expertise on the broadband needs of New Mexico’s economy, schools, and families.

The discussion ranged from the importance of promoting competition among providers and broadband facilitating the creation of good-paying jobs.

Successes like these are the result of bipartisan commitment to closing the digital divide. It should not be a partisan exercise to provide New Mexicans and all Americans with the basic tools they need to learn, work, and prosper. While we may not always see eye to eye, we agree that the United States should provide its people with the strongest services at the fairest price, which will strengthen New Mexico’s standing in the online economy. Now, it’s time to get the job done.

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U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján represents New Mexico in the U.S. Senate and serves as Chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. Commissioner Brendan Carr is the senior Republican on the Federal Communications Commission.