Measuring the impact of policy can be a complex undertaking. Consider a standard corporate office. If the wing’s supervisor decides to impose a rule limiting the use of plastic utensils — a move designed to limit the office’s environmental footprint — it would be a whole other job to monitor and enforce the rule.
Likewise, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, commonly referred to as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is so comprehensive that it will be decades before we know the effect it had on the overall well-being of the American public. One area the bill tackles is internet connectivity. As part of this undertaking, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the release of more than $400 million for broadband expansion in 11 states. The money represents a big win for states like New Mexico, that are looking to upgrade necessary internet access to their most remote communities and businesses.
New Mexico will join Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas in the first wave of recipients through the USDA’s ReConnect program.
The official figure for the totality of New Mexico’s funding is not set in stone — more funding will certainly follow from the $65 billion set aside for nationwide broadband expansion — but the sum of the major projects listed is just over $100 million.
A connected world means that residents and businesses who don’t have this access are in danger of falling behind. U.S. Lawmakers and department heads are using this opportunity to ensure that that doesn’t happen. “The internet is vital to our growth and continues to act as a catalyst for our prosperity,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “From the farm to the school, from households to international markets, connectivity drives positive change in our communities.”
The largest of the currently listed projects is a $45 million loan guarantee to local telecom company Valley Telephone Cooperative, replacing copper wire facilities with modern fiber-to-the-premises upgrades.
It will be no small task, burying over 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable and constructing nearly 2,800 terminals. Other notable fiber expansion initiatives include $29 million to Peñasco Valley Telecom, over $11 million to Tularosa Basin Telephone Company Inc., and $3.6 million to Continental Divide Electric Cooperative Inc. in Grants, NM.
Cybersecurity will also be a significant theme in New Mexico’s expansion. Events like January’s ransomware attack in Bernalillo County have spurred officials and security consultants to consider how the funding could help keep the state safe as developments progress. “I wanted to make sure that we can keep what we have safe before we reach out [for funding], but that’s not going to happen,” said Peter Mantos, chief information officer for the state. “There are people who are starving for broadband, so we’re going to do both simultaneously.”