November 07, 2017

Luján Introduces Legislation to Improve Deployment of High Speed Internet in New Mexico

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) today introduced the Broadband Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (BFIA), a bill that leverages public-private partnerships and uses a fresh approach to spur deployment of high-speed internet in New Mexico and other parts of the country. Lujan’s bill is especially important for rural communities where broadband infrastructure often lags behind urban areas.

Lujan’s bill will beef up low interest financing opportunities for public-private partnerships, as well as state and local authorities in order to incentivize broadband build-out. These opportunities include lines of credit, secured loans, and loan guarantees for broadband projects at interest rates pegged to that of treasury bonds.

“Today high-speed internet access isn’t just a embellishment; it is necessary for educational success, civic engagement, economic growth, smart health care, and just staying connected to family and friends,” said Luján.  “But that simply isn’t the case in many parts of our state and in many other parts of the country. If air-travelers can have Internet access at 30,000 feet in a plane, those of us on the ground should be able to have Internet access in rural New Mexico. We should bridge the digital divide and end – once and for all – the reality of digital haves and have-nots.”

An internet industry report published earlier this summer noted that New Mexico has the second-slowest internet speed of any state in the nation – barely ahead of Idaho and lagging behind top-ranking Delaware, Massachusetts and Washington DC.

Luján said it is critical that Congress continue to provide traditional support like grants and direct funding for broadband build-out, but we must target broadband deployment specifically and do more to bring people online. Luján’s bill embraces concepts from successful infrastructure programs from other sectors of the economy—specifically the Transportation Investment Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and the Water Investment Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).  Successful programs like these support critical infrastructure projects and offer a huge return on the federal dollar.  For the TIFIA program, the Transportation Department estimates that each dollar of federal funding can provide up to $10 in credit assistance and support up to $30 in infrastructure investment.  For WIFIA, for every federal dollar spent, some estimate that the program will loan between $50 and $60.

Applying the lessons of these successful programs, Luján’s bill would make low-interest financing available to public-private partnerships to help deploy broadband.  Under BIFIA, public-private partnerships will enjoy the flexibility to apply for secured loans, lines of credit, or loan guarantees.  The bill also includes provisions to ensure the federal government takes on little risk and provides a streamlined application process for smaller projects.

“My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to say that every New Mexican community, every New Mexican business and every individual in New Mexico has access to high speed internet service,” said Luján. “This legislation builds on a model that already works in other sectors of the economy – a model that yields high value returns on modest investments. No one bill alone will get us all the way to the goal of universal high-speed access – but this is a start, and though I am biased, it is a good start.