Growing up in a rural community called Beaverhead in southern New Mexico, John Diamond’s family used a generator for electricity and made calls using a radiophone.

A broker who sells farms and ranches, Diamond ultimately moved to the Elephant Butte area — in part because he needed better internet services.

“There were several reasons but the biggest reason is I need to be able to communicate,” he said.

Diamond spoke on a panel in Albuquerque on Monday with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and New Mexico’s congressional delegation, who announced the state has received $40 million in grants for broadband projects.

“It’s a game changer for New Mexico,” Diamond said. “It’s a game changer for agriculture, it’s a game changer for anybody in rural areas, because they can live the way that urban America has.”

Funding for the project comes from a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that put money toward improving airports, bridges, roads and expanding internet service across the country. New Mexico alone has now received funding for 18 broadband projects. The bill will ultimately provide $65 billion for internet-related projects.

“It really is our infrastructure moment for a generation,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “We can’t even begin to predict what that’s going to mean for so many businesses and young people and New Mexicans who are going to be able to reach their full opportunity.”

Three projects were announced Monday:

  • Western New Mexico Telephone Company Inc. is getting $24 million to provide high-speed internet to 206 people, five businesses and five farms in Catron County.
  • Peñasco Valley Telephone Cooperative Inc. is getting $13.9 million to provide high-speed internet to 550 people, 11 businesses and 48 farms in Chaves, Eddy, Otero and Lincoln counties.
  • E.N.M.R. Telephone Cooperative is getting $2.6 million to provide high-speed internet to a farm and 27 people in De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Quay, San Miguel, Socorro and Union counties.

The delegation described the investments as a way to level the playing field and give people in rural communities the same opportunities as people who live in larger cities.

“New Mexicans understand how interconnected we are,” said Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M. “Even those people who are in Albuquerque are connected to somebody up in Rio Arriba or somebody in Clovis.”

Vilsack said people from larger cities should support initiatives in rural areas, where much of the country’s food and fuel comes from.

“Folks who live in cities already understand the significance and power of the internet. They have had distance learning opportunities, they’ve had telemedicine, they’ve had the ability to link with specialists across the country,” Vilsack said. “I think they understand it’s important to have those kinds of opportunities available throughout the country.”

Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-N.M., said only 58% of homes in his district have fast internet.

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “Internet access is necessary for all aspects of our lives, including education, health care, and economic opportunity.”

Vilsack said oversight of the money doled out from the infrastructure law will be provided through regular reports and deadlines for the specific projects and the Office of the Inspector General.

“We’re going to continue to work as a delegation with the secretary to make sure that these projects are carried out, and that (the projects) get to the places that need them the most,” Vasquez said.

Ryan Boetel, Albuquerque Journal