A press conference on Magdalena benefiting from the Connect New Mexico Pilot Program’s project was conducted at the Village Hall last week.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

Socorro Electric Cooperative wants to leave things better than it found them, and it’s prepared to put its money at stake in a high-speed internet project coming to Magdalena.

SEC is one of four recipients splitting up a $38.6 million grant through the Connect New Mexico Pilot Program to bring Red Bolt Broadband access across New Mexico.

Magdalena is a pilot project for SEC, and it is expected to cost between $7-10 million to bring hard-wire fiber internet to the premises.

In addition to providing the infrastructure and labor, SEC is kicking in $1.3 million as part of matching funds for the project, which is expected to cost $29,000 each for an estimated 300 structures, homes or businesses in Magdalena.

“We are looking to leave it better than we found it,” SEC general manager Joseph Herrera said following a press conference at the Magdalena Village Hall on Nov. 29.

While $29,000 may seem expensive, according to attendee Kelly Schlegel, who serves as the Broadband Director for the New Mexico Governor’s office, the cost is about $1,000 under the expenses she had been seeing.

That $1,000 may not sound like big savings, but when multiplied 300 times, it becomes a significant figure.

Part of those savings is coming about because SEC partnered up with Continental Divide Electric, an electric coop with six years of experience providing broadband internet to rural customers. SEC has been laying the groundwork for the same time but, with such high costs, had to wait for the right opportunity.

That opportunity came in the form of a grant that is part of Connect New Mexico Pilot Program’s $120 million project that seeks to provide rural internet customers with the ability to conduct online businesses, visit their doctor via telehealth systems and attend college online.

The Magdalena project is still in the design phase, but Herrera hopes it can be completed by the end of next year as each installation will help their crews gain experience and move faster.

Nothing has been contracted, but SEC may partner with another entity to bring high-speed internet to the Alamo Navajo community.

For now, the focus is on Magdalena, and Herrera acknowledged the importance of partnering with CDE, where both organizations are providing service rather than competing against each other.

“We’re going lean on them to be that technical support. That’s going to be huge. We’re like-minded as far as cooperatives. We understand that it’s not about our needs, or their needs as well – it’s about what’s best for the entire membership,” Herrera said.

SEC’s feasibility study and application for a grant were reported to have been one of the best in the state and helped move the coop to the front of the line. Part of that was listening to its customers and realizing one of the biggest concerns was upload and download speeds.

Traditionally high-speed internet meant fast download speeds but uploading could be as much as ten times slower. SEC’s goal is to provide an internet service that is symmetrical/mirrored a one gigabyte per second and potentially faster in the future as demand for high bandwidth-consuming applications grows.

Magdalena Mayor Richard Rumpf is excited about seeing his city leapfrog into the future.

“They are helping bring the village into the 21st century, and making broadband available will make everyone’s lives easier. There are a lot of people that do schooling online, and it makes that much easier for them. Just basically upgrading the community,” Rumpf said.

No cost to customers for monthly service has been released, but the average price of 1-gig service is an estimated $90 per month.