Drew Lovelace New Mexico Broadband Director

Many state broadband directors are keeping their fingers crossed that all the areas eligible for BEAD rural broadband funding receive bids. But it’s a particularly big challenge for New Mexico, as the state’s broadband director Drew Lovelace explained in an interview with Telecompetitor.

“New Mexico hits a trifecta of challenges in geography, size, and rurality. A lot of states have one or two of these, we have all three,” said Lovelace.

New Mexico is the fifth largest state in land mass, but only 36th in population. Additionally, the state features diverse geographies that include canyons, rocky terrain, and eastern plains, among other challenges.

Lovelace has real concerns that some areas of the state are so rural that they may not receive bids in the BEAD program. As such, he’s engaged with providers now to try to avoid that.

“We are designing project areas to be 500-1500 unserved locations,” explained Lovelace. “Right now, we are working with ISPs to ensure both participation and that we have the right number in project areas.

“We want them to get a decent take rate that sustains the networks while serving the area without a lot of additional funding. Plans to expand into underserved communities will be rewarded when scoring.”

$675M in BEAD Funding

New Mexico will receive $675 million in BEAD dollars to serve an adjusted total of 45,000 unserved locations in the state. The original number of unserved locations dropped by 20,000 as a result of the ACAM program and RDOF.

While $675 million is a lot of money, Lovelace explains that it simply isn’t enough to cover anything more than reaching the unserved.

“We think there is a $2.1 billion funding gap in what New Mexico needs,” he said.

It’s his hope that in the process of getting service to the unserved, providers will be able to also make faster speeds available for the 55,000 underserved locations in the state.

Lovelace anticipates using a mixture of technologies to reach all unserved locations.

“While it’s a fiber-first program, it’s going to take an ‘all of the above’ approach in terms of alternative technologies that will need to be employed to reach the unserved,” said Lovelace. “Our preference is fiber, but the reality is with geography we are going to need to rely on alternative technologies like fixed wireless and satellite.”

Two BEAD Funding Rounds Anticipated
 

Volume 1 of New Mexico’s initial BEAD proposal was recently approved, and the challenge process is running through May 18.  Following will be 30 days for rebuttals and 60 days for adjudication.

In the meantime, New Mexico’s Volumes 2 is currently in the ‘curing’ process. As it was submitted near the deadline along with countless other states, Lovelace speculates that the delay is most likely simply a backlog in the NTIA reviewing process.

He anticipates that the earliest that funding will be handed out will be early in 2025. (No word yet on whether it will come in the form of giant-sized Ed McMahon-style checks.)

Lovelace foresees one round of funding followed by a second round where the broadband office will negotiate with providers for any areas that didn’t get bids, beginning with providers serving adjacent areas.

CPF & Workforce Investments

New Mexico used the majority of the funding it was awarded from the federal Capital Projects Fund for broadband deployments. The state awarded $117 million to cover some of the costs of buildouts to areas lacking high-speed service.

Tribal entities were big winners in the most recent funding round, not surprising in a state that is home to five tribes, including some that were never moved from their ancestorial lands. Entities winning funding in that round agreed to contribute an average of 37% of project costs.

Another important initiative for the New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion (OBAE) is ensuring that a workforce will be in place to support the coming broadband investments. Almost $2 million is being allocated to support curriculum development and training initiatives across the state.

One of those training initiatives is the establishment of a broadband workforce development trailer that will travel across the state to meet potential broadband deployment workers where they live. Project Echo at the University of New Mexico (UNM) will oversee the trailer initiative.

From LA to Santa Fe
 

Lovelace was director of operations at OBAE prior to becoming broadband director when the office’s original director Kelly Schlegel retired last fall.

The office has a staff of 25 “extremely skilled professionals,” Lovelace noted.

Lovelace is a native Los Angelino who has been adopted by the state that his wife’s family hails from. Out of college he worked for outdoor retail cooperative REI, taking him to from one Western community to another until he landed in New Mexico and enrolled in the MBA program at UNM.

You can see in his classic New Mexico attire that he’s come to adopt the state as his own. “I love the deep, rich heritage of the state,” he said. “New Mexico has been and is great to me, my wife, and our two kids born here.”

As for his responsibilities as broadband director, Lovelace said, “This is a career defining job. I have the opportunity to do something huge for the entire state of New Mexico.”

Additional information about New Mexico broadband, including links to state funding resources and state-specific Telecompetitor coverage, can be found on the Telecompetitor Broadband Nation webpage for the state.

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