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Lawmakers seek broadband access for tribal communities

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Rural tribal areas like the Navajo Nation are finding it challenging with the lack of broadband access in their communities. Those most affected are the children, who find it difficult to find hotspots, often having to drive miles to reach one. Lawmakers hope to change this by providing internet access to the region.

"The only way we're going to help the economic goals of all New Mexico, but really the Native areas, is to help them have access to broadband," said State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Bernalillo, during the Legislative Indian Affairs interim committee meeting in June.

According to a 2020 report from the Legislative Finance Committee, 20% of students in rural New Mexico do not have internet service.

At another interim committee hearing on July 7, lawmakers asked what could be done quickly to address the issue.

"That landline, digging these trenches, and putting that in takes longer than putting up a satellite," said State Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-McKinley & San Juan. "So if we can have that available to them on a bigger scale to reach as many as possible. I think that will really help."

State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, called on the state to provide laptops for every child rather than one per household. She also said it’s important to have more than one internet provider.

"The children should be able to communicate with each other with several laptops. Whatever it is that they need to communicate," said Rodriguez. “I believe that we need to have various options, so that people can get the best, most comprehensive, and the quickest way to communicate through the internet, and more importantly, that they can do it in a way that they can afford it."

The state created the Department of Information Technology in 2021 to provide broadband internet across New Mexico. But Pinto, who is Navajo, says many places are still not covered, especially rural tribal areas.

“We're still behind, and our people are still struggling. I hope we can move a little quicker so that we can have some solutions before school starts. Even if we open all the schools up, there are still those that going to have to work from home, going to have to go to school from home.”

Lawmakers are working to provide more funds for broadband access so that it will not only be accessible but affordable.

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