Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr visited The University of New Mexico Thursday, appearing at a roundtable event with other stakeholders advocating greater broadband access in New Mexico. The commissioner traveled from Washington D.C. specifically to hear from constituents about the impact of FCC agency policies. The discussion was arranged by the office of U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).

“Reliable, affordable broadband was already important before the COVID-19 pandemic threw so much of our lives online. As we continue to address the pandemic, our reliance on internet connectivity shows no sign of stopping” said Luján, Chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “New Mexicans understand how vital broadband services are for our everyday lives, ranging from students completing their schoolwork to emergency responders relaying lifesaving medical information during emergencies.”

Luján fought to expand the Affordable Connectivity Benefit, which makes broadband more affordable for 785,000 New Mexico families, in addition to at least $100 million that New Mexico is expected to receive for broadband buildout.

The discussion was held at the Anderson School of Management. UNM Chief Information Office Duane Arruti joined Carr at the table, along with members of the Connect NM Council – initiated in 2021 with the goal of providing New Mexico with the broadband capacity to connect all New Mexicans to reliable, high-speed internet.

“Digital equity has always been an important topic, but never has the digital divide been so evident than through the pandemic, where we relied on technology for our day-to-day activities,” Arruti said. “This is particularly pronounced in education – both at the K-12 and higher education levels with the proliferation of remote teaching and learning. In the last year, we have been working with partners statewide, including other higher education institutions, to lay a foundation for the statewide education network.”

The proposal includes using higher ed sites, strategically located around the state, as colocation, aggregation sites, interconnected in a network ring to Albuquerque GigaPoP (ABQG) services. Arruti and others discussed the importance of broadband and underscored current policy in play that could impact accessibility, as well as UNM research that could support greater access across the state.

“A quick survey of research proposals in various stages shows we have 30-plus efforts under way to innovate on broadband, with a huge focus on network optimization and security,” Arruti said.

Following the roundtable, Carr toured Project ECHO. Founder and director Sanjeev Arora highlighted Project ECHO initiatives and ways continued broadband investment could help continue providing critical medical care to those who need it most but don’t have access. Luján has long been a proponent of telehealth services and highlighted Project ECHO in his subcommittee hearing last year.

Also in attendance was Vice President for UNM Health Sciences Doug Ziedonis and several other Project ECHO leaders, innovators and practitioners.