NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Students across New Mexico have started the school year online and lots of families are already running into internet issues. It’s something the governor addressed during Thursday’s news conference.
The pandemic has really highlighted this problem in rural communities across the state. Adding to the challenges of doing school online, parents say just getting a strong enough internet connection is a major issue.
Living in New Mexico’s rural communities has its perks. “There’s less crime out here which is nice,” said Kayla Richards, a University of New Mexico student.
But a global pandemic forcing students across the state to start the school year online has highlighted some of the drawbacks. “The wi-fi out here, it’s terrible,” said Richards.
Richards is a college senior doing classes from home. She’s also a nanny for a pair of six-year-olds who just started school.
“I was with them for their first meeting with their teacher and their audio kept lagging, and you could hardly understand the teacher,” said Richards. “They didn’t want to sit still, so it was hard for everybody to focus.”
They’re not alone. Jane Gamble who lives in Tijeras has a third grader with special needs in Albuquerque Public Schools.
“We actually cannot get any internet service provider out here, so we are using our cellular hotspot,” Gamble said. She said the challenge of getting her son to sit still in front of a computer is only the beginning.
“A lot of the kids that we see on the video, their video has been freezing or the computer has been glitching,” said Gamble. “He is struggling hardcore,” she said of her eight-year-old.
KRQE News 13 asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about the problem during Thursday’s news conference. “This is really hard and I don’t want to minimize that,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “The state does not have adequate connectivity, broadband. It’s a significant infrastructure problem for education, health care, and the economy.”
With community centers and libraries closed to the public, the City of Albuquerque and APS rolled out a free Wifi on Wheels program. But sitting in your car to do schoolwork doesn’t fix the problem for a lot of families.
“Getting him into the vehicle is hard enough on just a normal day,” said Gamble, of her son. “For him to sit there and do his school work in a car is not gonna be feasible without him melting down.”
“Frankly maybe this is a pitch to the private sector,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “If there’s a private sector company out there in New Mexico that thinks that they can do more than what we’ve got on our agenda, we want to partner with you – a call to action. We should be able to resolve this to a higher degree.”
“I am willing to do whatever it takes to do it, but today I’m not confident that it will solve the problem for every single district and every single student,” Gov. Lujan Grisham added. “And I need to be truthful about that for the state.”
Broadband and internet connectivity isn’t just a problem in New Mexico. A recent report showed that nearly half of all Americans have slow or no internet at all.
The City of Albuquerque and APS said they’re working to add even more free wifi hotspots around town. People are not allowed indoors but they can connect to the free wi-fi and sit in their vehicles between the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Since community centers are already at maximum capacity per the Public Health Order for youth programs for essential worker families, the City of Albuquerque said it can’t let the public inside those facilities to use wi-fi.
APS said it’s working to equip 80 buses with wifi to be placed at different locations around the city where groups have notified them of a need.
District 5 Bernalillo County Commissioner, Charlene Pyskoty, lives in Tijeras. She said this has been a top priority for her office to try and problem solve.
Pyskoty said they’ve conducted a feasibility study to see what it would take to have internet installed in rural communities. However, due to the terrain and how spread apart homes are, Pyskoty said it’ll take a concerted effort between the state and the federal government to fund.
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