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New Mexico Announces Push for High-Speed Internet for Schools

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vowed Thursday to bring high-speed Internet to every classroom in her heavily rural state by 2018.

More than 30 percent of New Mexico schools currently lack such connections, according to the governor's press release. But nearly $50 million in state funds that have already been appropriated, along with anticipated monies from the federal E-rate program in coming years, will be directed to the cause.

See: The E-rate Overhaul in 4 Easy Charts

A variety of state agencies will also work with the San Francisco-based broadband advocacy group EducationSuperHighway to develop a plan for an improved statewide broadband infrastructure for schools.

"As leaders, we must...give our students the tools they need to succeed. In 2015, that means providing every school with access to high-speed Internet," Martinez, a Republican, said in a statement.

New fiber-optic connections between schools and the outside world and upgraded Wi-Fi networks inside school buildings will be key to the new strategy.

School in the state currently buy Internet access from a patchwork of private providers, including major national carrier CenturyLink and a host of local phone companies and regional co-operatives. Schools are often left to fend for themselves when negotiating with the companies. In some parts of the state, there is little or no competition among providers.

As part of its efforts to improve service and lower rates, New Mexico is exploring options to overhaul that system. 

In an October 5 presentation, the state Public Schools Facility Authority, which has been charged with studying the state landscape, laid out four options. Among them was a new fiber-optic network that would be built and operated by the state at a cost of up to $360 million. Less expensive alternatives include strategies for better aggregating bandwidth at key points around New Mexico, so that it is more affordable for providers to access and sell to schools.

Thursday's announcement is just the latest state school-broadband partnership involving EducationSuperHighway, which has emerged as a key player in the national push to bring high-speed Internet to schools. 

The group was instrumental in last year's successful effort to overhaul the federal E-rate program, which helps subsidize the cost of telecommunications services for schools and libraries. Just last month, the group announced a similar partnership in Montana.  It has also worked extensively in Arkansas and Virginia.


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