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Deadline looms for verifying internet speeds across Southern NM

Your input will determine where billions of dollars for faster internet are spent

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Is your internet too slow? Residents of Southern New Mexico, along with people across the nation, are just days away from a Friday, Jan. 13 deadline to tell the federal government which homes, businesses and neighborhoods should benefit from a share of the billions of dollars in federal aid intended to upgrade areas to high-speed internet.

Verifying internet speeds – which must be done by the impending deadline  – is a key step to getting significant new funding for upgrade projects.

“This is actually a really big deal right now,” said Bob Bunting, cybersecurity and broadband manager for Doña Ana County. 

The FCC made its broadband internet map available to the public on Nov. 18, Bunting said. And it’s now up to the public to verify that the speeds and availability reflected on it are a true picture of which geographic areas have high-speed internet and which don’t.

All residents invited to participate

Counties across Southern New Mexico face a steep connectivity divide, with many residents having no access to – or poor options for – high-speed internet.

New Mexicans in every community should review the FCC’s map to make sure their addresses have the correct internet speed and availability – or non-availability – of internet service, Bunting said.

“There is definitely the concern that the information about what is actually available is not necessarily as accurate as we want,” said Bunting about the FCC map. “Federal funding for future broadband projects is what is at stake. When the federal government decides on where to allocate money for new broadband grants, … the map is where they will be starting from. So we want it to accurately reflect the services available as much as possible.”

When the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law in 2021, it required the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to use this broadband map as the primary determinant for how to distribute the $42.5 billion made available through the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD).

“You can easily dispute, or challenge, information shown on the map that you believe is inaccurate,” states the FCC website. (https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData/consumers#:~:text=If%20the%20information%20about%20the,map%20and%20submitting%20the%20form.)  “An accurate map will help identify the unserved and underserved communities most in need of funding for high-speed internet infrastructure investments.”

This program was created in response to the surge of internet usage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, it sought to address the problem of millions of people lacking access to adequate internet connections. And it’s essentially the U.S. government’s acknowledgement that high-speed internet is now a necessity for the at-home work and shopping that’s come to define pandemic life. Students, too, increasingly need high-speed internet for classes and homework.

“It is super easy to challenge the map,” said Kitty Clemens, a broadband deployment consultant to the Luna County Economic Development office. “Now for the first time ever, consumers can log onto a webpage and put their address in,” she said, which will show which internet providers are claiming to serve that area and which speeds should be available.

How to test your internet speeds

Several apps and websites are available to test your upload and download speeds – both of which are important for work and school purposes. One such site is https://www.speedtest.net. It only takes a few minutes to run a test. For the most accurate results, you shouldn’t use the internet for anything else – like streaming TV or playing video games – at the same time the test is being done. Once you know the speeds for your home or business, you can compare them to those listed on the FCC’s map. 

The FCC website where you can see the map and verify the speeds available for your specific location is: https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home. Once there, you’ll enter your physical address and click on the appropriate dot for that address. The official information on internet coverage and speed is then displayed. To dispute that information, click the “Location Challenge” link at the right of the screen, which will generate a form to be filled out and submitted. 

For tips on checking internet speeds on a mobile device, visit: https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/fcc-speed-test-app-tip-sheet.

The state Office of Broadband Access and Expansion this week sent out single-page mailers to New Mexicans, urging them to check the federal map. The mailers include a post card that can be detached, filled out and mailed back to the broadband office to report internet speeds. This state website also guides residents about how to challenge the FCC’s map: ConnectNewMexico.org/map-challenge

Definitions for what constitutes high-speed internet can vary. For the purposes of the mapping project, officials are trying to determine which homes and businesses have either no internet access – or internet with download speeds slower than 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds slower than 3 Mbps.

Connectivity speeds tend to vary greatly by the type of service being provided. Usually phone line-based and satellite internet are on the slower end of the spectrum, while cable-based internet is on the faster end. The fastest service is via fiber optic lines.

Reyes Mata III is a freelance journalist working with the Southern New Mexico Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of local news organizations covering topics of importance to residents in the southern half of the state. The Collaborative’s current focus is COVID-19 recovery.

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