Even though it was the United States Department of Commerce that championed the Internet as a means of universal commercial and democratic information exchange, the U.S. ranks 12-16th in broadband penetration. We are the only developed country in the world without a coherent broadband strategy. New Mexico, despite being host to such high-tech agencies as Los Alamos National Labs and Sandia National Labs, lags behind almost all other states in broadband penetration.
This was supposed to change when President Obama added $4.7 billion of spending to the 2009 Stimulus spending bill to
accelerate broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and to strategic community institutions that provide important public benefits.
How is this to be accomplished?
The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) is distributing grants to the tune of $3.9 billion for the “construction of broadband networks.” Among other things, the NTIA will consider whether a grant will increase broadband affordability in an underserved area, whether the grant will benefit a disadvantaged or small business, and if the project has long-term viability outside of the grant period.
This is all well and good, but it doesn’t address the fundamental problem with U.S. broadband infrastructure. Projects like Cisco’s “Internet to the Hogan” are exactly the kind of thing that will bring the benefits of the Internet to poor, mostly rural areas. As long as the United States trails other OECD nations in broadband subscription prices, getting Internet to the poorer areas of New Mexico will remain an uphill battle.
The problem doesn’t just lie with rural communities, either: Internet providers in New Mexico have for the most part consolidated and conglomerated. Remember Road Runner Internet, Route 66, and the myriad other small Internet providers that served New Mexico in the 1990’s? Small providers have been pushed out by big players like Comcast, Verizon and Qwest. As a consequence, these companies protect national interests rather than local ones. The impetus exists within most communities and the government to push high-speed Internet to far-flung areas of New Mexico. Whether the significant corporate backing necessary to deliver broadband into rural areas will materialize, we will soon find out.