Bringing The Land Of Enchantment Online, Affordably

Rio Grande Foundation

The state of New Mexico is unique in both its demographics and geographical features.  Our vast land area, diverse topography, and sparse population have proven to be a significant barrier when it comes to broadband deployment and internet connectivity. This affects New Mexicans from the eastern prairie to the Rio Grande Valley. This challenge is particularly evident across low-income communities and on tribal lands.

Billions of federal and state tax dollars have been spent on broadband in recent years, but the problems persist because too often these funds were wasted or spent in duplicative ways. For example, according to recent media reports New Mexico just received a $40 million grant to connect only 800 or so homes.  

As proponents of limited government and the power of free market economics, the Rio Grande Foundation is concerned about efficient use of our tax dollars. Too often, progressive policies that fail to account for market forces exhibit the “high cost of good intentions” – programs designed to help the poorest residents of our state end up hurting low-income and minority Americans.

One federal program seems to finally be working by sending funds directly to the consumer to choose what works for them. The Affordable Connective Program (ACP), funded by Congress and administered by the Federal Communications Commission, is making an impact. It’s helping families throughout New Mexico afford internet connectivity. The ACP gives low-income New Mexicans the tools they need to participate in the digital economy by harnessing market forces. 

To date more than 17 million households nationally have enrolled and more than 160 thousand New Mexican households. The ACP is a voucher program that enables qualifying households to receive a discount of up to $30 a month for internet service and up to $75 a month for those living on tribal lands.

The ACP is not a welfare program. It empowers Americans to care for themselves and their families and can even help elevate enrollees from their current financial situation. As one of the poorest and least connected states in the U.S., communities across New Mexico deserve a hand up. 

The ACP is not a disincentive to work, but rather it’s a stimulant for job access and economic opportunity. Households enrolled in the ACP can access the digital world to find job openings, utilize telehealth, and access advanced learning opportunities – a particularly urgent need for communities across our state.

New Mexico’s education system is still reeling from terrible policy decisions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. New Mexico’s educational ranking sank to the very bottom in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Ensuring that children across the state can access online learning tools is a no-brainer.  

The Governor’s lockdown policies had a demonstrably negative effect on our young people, particularly those who lived in rural areas and on tribal lands with limited broadband access. With a reliable and affordable internet connection, thousands of families across our state access the tools they need to learn today.   

The ACP’s future is uncertain as projections indicate that the program could run out of money early next year. Congress should act to extend ACP funding in the short term and provide itself time to have a larger debate around broadband subsidy programs to determine the best long-term approach.   

A more-connected New Mexico is within reach and can be done by harnessing market forces. The ACP is delivering affordable connectivity across our state, giving each citizen the tools needed for self-sufficiency and upward mobility. It’s time for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to acknowledge the value that this program provides and find a path forward to keep New Mexicans in need connected. 

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.