MOUNTAINAIR — The Office of Broadband Access and Expansion (OBAE) visited the rural community of Mountainair to celebrate the recently announced grant award to Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative (CNMEC).

The grant award is funded through the Connect New Mexico Pilot Program, which involves a $123 million grant program to foster the deployment of broadband access across unserved and underserved areas in New Mexico through sustainable, scalable networks. Funding is provided by the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 and authorized by New Mexico House Bill 2.

CNMEC is an electric cooperative that started in 1945 and provides electricity to 13,971 members across 11 New Mexican counties. Several electric cooperatives across the U.S. have ventured into broadband deployment when their service areas lack high-speed broadband solutions. The Pilot Program enables CNMEC’s initial entry into the broadband market for its existing customer base of electric customers in Mountainair and Estancia in Torrance County and a very rural part of Santa Fe County falling outside the town of Moriarty.

The project involves an 85-mile fiber network that will connect over 2,000 premises comprising residents, businesses, and community institutions — impacting over 4,700 people living in the service area. They will benefit from speeds up to symmetrical 1 Gbps, leapfrogging the highly inadequate 25/3 Mbps (and below) speeds available today. The project also positions CNMEC to serve its larger member base in the future.

CNMEC will receive $6.57 million from the Pilot Program and will match the funding with $2.19 million for a total project budget of $8.76 million. The project will leverage local resources to plan, construct, and maintain the network. CNMEC will also launch several programs to foster broadband adoption, including free Wi-Fi and computer classes to residents and price subsidies for low-income residents.

“Central New Mexico Electric has a loyal, hardworking membership base that deserves available technology infrastructure, so we decided to get involved in broadband because after the pandemic we witnessed the obvious void,” said CNMEC General Manager Alena Brandenberger. “We are very excited. It will take time to get where we are finally able to push out the services, but we are thrilled to be a part of this process and to have you all from the State of New Mexico here with us today to celebrate our first grant award.”

“I am really excited to be part of an historic company like CNMEC leading the deployment of future-proof solutions to the highly unserved communities of Mountainair and Estancia,” said OBAE Director Kelly Schlegel. “These towns symbolize the digital divide still prevalent across hundreds of rural New Mexican communities, but also the tremendous pent-up socioeconomic opportunities that will soon be realized by having the highest quality Internet available in the country.”