Rural communities need better access to the internet

As evidenced by Darrell Allen’s and Merritt Hamilton Allen’s recent columns, one issue we all agree on is that rural communities need better access to reliable high-speed internet. As schools and business have gone virtual during the pandemic, those without this access are at risk of falling behind. A recent news item offers a glimmer of hope. The Federal Communications Commission allocated $165.2 million to 18 internet providers to deliver mostly gigabit speed internet to 64,170 locations in New Mexico including those in Edgewood, the East Mountains and Moriarty over the next 10 years. Just as the Rural Electrification Act brought electricity to rural areas of the United States, the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund can bridge the digital divide where we live.

Having high speed internet through companies like Elon Musk’s Starlink, which is building a constellation of 30,000 low-earth satellites that can provide internet to the most remote regions on the planet, will help rural communities train for the global transition to clean energy that is happening now. By 2050, if not before, all electricity in New Mexico will come from renewables, according to the Energy Transition Act. Building and running wind and solar power and energy storage will provide thousands of rural jobs at all education levels, according to a recent report by the University of New Mexico. Having fast internet will allow people in rural communities to train for these local jobs online. New Mexico has the potential to deliver (and export) the least expensive renewable electricity in the nation (report). Fast internet is one of the first steps to make this all happen.

There are two rural infrastructure bills being considered for inclusion in the next New Mexico Legislative session, but neither of them have any funding associated with them. Let’s tell our representatives to support and strengthen these bills so that our communities have the tools to educate our children and our workforce and allow our businesses to compete on a level playing field.

Stefi Weisburd, Tijeras