When a private utility digs a trench, it can ask other utilities if they want to install their pipes or cables and share the cost.
But when governments dig up roads or vacant land for road or sewer projects, it can’t offer trenches to providers of broadband Internet due to the anti-donation clause in the New Mexico Constitution, which prohibits taxpayer money from going to private companies.
A House committee Monday approved a bill to rectify that by designating broadband Internet development as an essential component of economic development in the state and exempt from the anti-donation clause.
House Bill 60 would allow governments to offer space in open trenches to telephone and Internet companies to expand broadband or fiber-optic service. Most large data and images need thicker cables than telephone lines to be delivered, and extending broadband service to low-density parts of the state can be expensive.
“This is a no-brainer; it doesn’t cost (the state) any money,” said Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, chairman of the Labor and Economic Development Committee, which OK’d the bill.
The measure is sponsored by Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Sen. Jacob R. Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and is one recommendation of the Legislature’s Jobs Council, which has been meeting for three years to advocate for measures that will grow the state economy.
Among those supporting the bill are the Association of Commerce and Industry, rural electric cooperatives, Public Service Company of New Mexico and the National Association of Social Workers, which sees broadband as an important tool for telemedicine and mental health treatment.
Trujillo said New Mexico has done a lot of talking but not taken much action to help the expansion of broadband.
His bill clarifies that broadband is an important tool for economic development and allows broadband telecommunications development to fall under the Local Economic Development Act, making it exempt from the anti-donation clause.
The policies of what cable could be placed in a trench and how that happens would still be set by local governments or, for highway projects, the state Department of Transportation.
The bill passed unanimously and now moves to the House Business and Industry Committee.
“This is just another tool in the toolbox to allow them (local governments) to foster better expansion of broadband,” said Rep. Rick Little, a Republican from Chaparral.
Contact Bruce Krasnow at [email protected].