New Mexico, Minnesota latest to say BEAD funds won't be enough

DENVER, CO – Officials from New Mexico and Minnesota are the latest to declare that federal and state funds currently available to them will not be enough to bring broadband to the underserved and unserved in their states.

At Mountain Connect 2023 this week, Bree Maki, the executive director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development, said the state’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) allotment of about $651.8 million is “very close to” what her office expected.

“However, we have statutory goals that are different when we talk about what unserved is,” said Maki. The state of Minnesota considers unserved locations to be those without access to 100/20 Mbps speeds.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) defines an unserved location as one without any broadband service at all or with internet service offering speeds below 25/3 Mbps, and it is instead this definition that Maki said Minnesota’s allocation was based on.

“That dollar amount, though, is incredible,” she added. “We're very thankful. It will continue to get us where we already wanted to go. But our dollar amount, we just know, is not going to be enough.”

New Mexico received an allocation of $675.3 million. Ovidiu Viorica, the broadband and technology manager for Connect New Mexico, said that while that is “a lot of money, the preliminary estimates indicate that it’s not going to be enough to get the job done in New Mexico, regardless of the type of technology that that we're looking at.”

“We have a significant gap. A big missing piece is the middle mile on the infrastructure side,” Viorica noted. And because BEAD funding won’t be enough to complete infrastructure in New Mexico, it won’t reach into “the digital equity side, the affordability, which leads to adoption.”

This is a bold disparity compared to other states, such as Virginia, that have said their ample state and federal funding will allow BEAD to contribute to affordable broadband programs.

Tamarah Holmes, director of Virgina’s Office of Broadband, said at the event that the state “know[s] we will have money left over to work on broadband adoption and broadband home affordability.”

For his state’s part, Viorica said the Connect New Mexico office is already asking the state’s legislature for an additional appropriation estimated to be around $350 million over six years “to fill in the gaps and really allow us to get the job done.”

In July, California was one of the first states to say that total funding available won't be enough to completely bridge its digital divide. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) made a note of this in its draft five-year plan for the $1.86 billion it received through the BEAD program.

Industry experts called California’s concerns “unsurprising” because the state has chosen a “fiber-above-all” approach for its government-subsidized buildouts, instead of opting for a tech-neutral approach that would allow for more fixed wireless and other fiber-alternative projects in the state.

But Minnesota and New Mexico have doubts that their funding will be enough despite the fact that both states are open to a tech-neutral approach.

Maki said being “technology agnostic” is one way in which her office will need to stay “realistic” about the patchwork of funding and solutions needed to connect all of the state’s unserved.

And in New Mexico, where it’s “very, very difficult to deploy infrastructure,” Viorica said that will be the case “whether it’s wired or wireless.”