The term “Digital Divide” was first coined in the mid-nineties, and generally refers to a gap between the haves and have-nots regarding binary internet access, which is now known as first-level digital divide. The digital divide is actually more complex. The varying levels of internet skills and use is called second-level digital divide, and the varying outcomes of internet use is known as third-level digital divide (Scheerder, et. al., 2017). (More on this in another post!)
According to BROADBANDNOW, the largest database of broadband providers, the state of New Mexico ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to broadband coverage. (Broadbandnow, n.d.) According to Census data in 2016, only 73.7 percent of New Mexico household had broadband connections. The U.S. average was 81.4 percent, and Washington state led the nation at 87.4 percent. Coincidentally enough, bottom rank status is also given to New Mexico, for multiple years in a row, for education and child well-being. Also, another related ranking is the poverty level. New Mexico’s poverty rate is above 19%. The nation’s average poverty rate is a little above 13%.
New Mexico is described as a “tri-culture” due to the settlement of the state, in the 1800’s, which comprised of Hispanic, Native American and White cultures. Hispanic and Native American cultural influences can be readily seen all over the Land of Enchantment. Among the evidence of the rich cultural artifacts are our Native American Reservations. There are 23 Reservations and Pueblos in New Mexico. The largest is the Navajo Nation, which has a population of more than 65,000 people (Hollis, 2018). The Navajo Reservation occupies Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. One third of the Navajo Nation lives in New Mexico in the counties: Cibola, McKinley, San Juan, and Socorro. Cibola county has 23.2% broadband coverage, McKinely: 39.6%, San Juan: 71% and Socorro: 5.7%. In contrast, the wealthiest county in New Mexico, Los Alamos, has 98.9% broadband coverage. The New Mexico counties where the Navajo Nation resides, on average, have 34% broadband coverage.
According to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 4th grade Native American students in New Mexico scored significantly below 4th graders of New Mexico. In a state where generally, education is ranked at the bottom of the nation, our Native American students appear to do even worse. At what point does the lack of broadband access become so problematic that we now consider it oppressive? When we can easily correlate poverty, ethnicity, and poor education quality with the lack of broadband access, we know there is a deeper problem, something to the root of social injustice.
I am not the only person to notice.
In 2020, after announcing an inter-governmental agreement with the Pueblo of Cochiti to fund $2.9 million for broadband internet access, Governor Lujan Grisham stated, “It’s past time to end the digital divide that separates communities in New Mexico and across the country into haves and have-nots. The current world health crisis has made it clearer than ever that high-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it is essential to the health, welfare and education of our people, and I look forward to seeing more partnerships like this with more rural New Mexico communities.” (2020)
The Federal Government also decided to act in the name of the 2020 Pandemic.
In April 2020, US Senators from New Mexico, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with 44 colleagues, introduced a House Bill called, Emergency Educational Connections Act. This legislation is aimed at ensuring all K-12 Students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic. (2020). This act would provide support to schools and libraries to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices to students and staff. Heinrich stated, “Now more than ever, as many schools remained closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access is vital for students to continue their education. Closing the digital divide and connecting students with online resources and assistance will be key to ensuring their academic success. I am proud to support this effort in the Senate and will continue to fight for long-term federal investments in broadband infrastructure in rural communities and Indian Country to ensure that every student in New Mexico has access to the internet” (Onsurez, 2020).
Below is a capture of the last time this bill was addressed in the House of Representatives.
Broadband Service in New Mexico. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://broadbandnow.com/
Hollis, C. (2018, October 03). Native American Children and Families in New Mexico: Strengths and Challenges. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.nmvoices.org/archives/5834
Meng, G. (2020, May 05). Actions – H.R.6563 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6563/all-actions?r=32
N.M. awards Cochiti Pueblo $2.9 million for broadband. (2020, June 3). Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.newmexico.gov/2020/06/03/n-m-awards-cochiti-pueblo-2-9-million-for-broadband/
Onsurez, J. (2020, May 27). New Mexico Schools Seek Funds for Devices, Internet. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.govtech.com/network/New-Mexico-Schools-Seek-Funds-for-Devices-Internet.html
Scheerder, A., van Deursen, A., & van Dijk, J. (2017). Determinants of Internet skills, uses and outcomes. A systematic review of the second- and third-level digital divide. Telematics & Informatics, 34(8), 1607–1624. https://libezp.nmsu.edu:2072/10.1016/j.tele.2017.07.007
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. (2020, May 18). Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.heinrich.senate.gov/press-releases/udall-heinrich-introduce-legislation-to-ensure-all-students-have-access-to-internet-during-coronavirus-pandemic
Vitu, T. (2018, December 27). Census Report Shows Depth of New Mexico’s Broadband Problem. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.govtech.com/network/Census-Report-Shows-Depth-of-New-Mexicos-Broadband-Problem.html