New Mexico lawmakers want $100M for ‘alternative broadband’

December 8, 2021 GMT
Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposed bill in the New Mexico state House would set aside $100 million for “alternative broadband.”

That’s the legislators’ term for high-speed internet that isn’t transmitted by the traditional way with cables buried in the ground.

Lack of internet access during the pandemic hobbled low-income and rural students and made it hard for rural communities to access healthcare services that are increasingly going online.

New Mexico is already experimenting with novel internet delivery systems ranging from TV broadcasts to blimps that beam internet from the sky. SpaceX says it will begin to offer high-speed internet in the state starting sometime in mid-2022.

The Legislature is meeting this week to draw new political boundaries integrating new population numbers from the 2020 Census.

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On Wednesday, legislators debated parts of the spending bill that would allocate $1 billion in federal aid. They’re working on allocating the money now after a state court ruled last month that the governor can’t spend the money without their approval.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had already spent around $680 million in federal money, including $650 million to replenish the state’s unemployment fund. Lujan Grisham also allocated $5 million to subsidize the pay of chile farmworkers and $10 million in lottery prizes for COVID-19 vaccine recipients.

Now the Legislature is considering how to spend the remaining $1 billion.

The top spending categories in the bill debated Wednesday were $142 million for roads and $150 million for internet infrastructure, including the $100 million for alternative broadband.

Other priorities include funding improvements in state parks, increasing the tourism marketing budget and support for affordable housing and food banks.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.