David Hampton: Regional Broadband Access, Is It Time To Share?

Republican Candidate for
House District 43

Covid-19 has shined a light on the importance of broadband internet access for those who have school age children or who now work from home. Broadband access in rural areas has been a critical need for years, and now even more so. Unfortunately, approximately 25% of New Mexicans live in areas of the state without broadband access, many in counties near Los Alamos. There are several ways to remedy this.

One way is to apply for one of the USDA grants like Penasco, Grants, and Eastern New Mexico are currently taking advantage of.  I suspect this remedy, which is being utilized across the nation, while making great improvements, might take a long time to cure all rural internet deficiencies in New Mexico.

Another way, and certainly the one the state legislature could accomplish most easily, would be to encourage infrastructure development by exempting it from gross receipts tax, like the Rio Grande Foundation recommends.  Eliminating taxation would make it profitable for providers to build the infrastructure in many areas.

Yet another way would be for LANL, which is currently saving greatly in regards to footprint, vehicle, and internal network costs, among other things, to invest in regional broadband infrastructure, which would certainly benefit LANL by allowing those who now work from home to work from other less populated areas, also solving many of the housing problems in Los Alamos County.

Of course, as I watch the construction of the splash pad in White Rock, as nice as that might be for some of our children, wildlife, and stray dogs, I can’t help but wonder if that money could have been better spent at a time like this.  Not only does Los Alamos County benefit disproportionately from gross receipts tax generated by LANL, it is also largely insulated from the reduction in gross receipts tax currently being experienced in other parts of the state due to the Covid-19 shutdowns.

While our county has set aside an investment to generate a small amount of money each year to be used for regional capital projects, maybe we could do more and invest directly in regional rural broadband infrastructure.  Or better yet, maybe all the entities listed above as well as the other stakeholders could cooperate and share the costs.