Socorro Electric Cooperative wants to leave things better than they found them and is ready to put its money on the line in a high-speed internet project in Magdalena.
SEC is one of four grantees to share a $38.6 million grant under the Connect New Mexico pilot program to bring Red Bolt broadband access across New Mexico.
Magdalena is a pilot project for the SEC, and it is expected to cost between $7 million and $10 million to bring fiber optic internet to the premises.
In addition to providing infrastructure and labor, SEC is injecting $1.3 million as part of matching funds for the project, which is expected to cost $29,000 each for approximately 300 structures, homes or businesses to Magdalena.
“We’re looking to leave him better than we found him,” SEC Chief Executive Joseph Herrera said following a news conference at Magdalena Village Hall Nov. 29.
While $29,000 may seem expensive, according to attendee Kelly Schlegel, who is director of broadband for the New Mexico governor’s office, the cost is about $1,000 below what she had seen spent.
That $1,000 might not seem like a big savings, but multiplied by 300, it becomes a significant number.
Part of those savings came from the fact that the SEC partnered with Continental Divide Electric, an electric cooperative with six years of experience providing high-speed Internet to rural customers. The SEC laid the groundwork during the same period but, with such high costs, had to wait for the right opportunity.
This opportunity came in the form of a grant that is part of the $120 million Connect New Mexico pilot program project that aims to provide rural internet customers with the ability to conduct online business, see their doctor via telehealth systems and going to college online.
The Magdalena project is still in the design phase, but Herrera hopes it can be completed by the end of next year, as each installation will help their crews gain experience and progress faster.
Nothing has been contracted, but the SEC may partner with another entity to bring high-speed internet to the Alamo Navajo community.
For now, the focus is on Magdalena, and Herrera recognized the importance of a partnership with CDE, where both organizations provide services rather than compete with each other.
“We will rely on them to be this technical support. It’s gonna be huge. We agree with co-ops. We understand that it’s not about our needs, or their needs as well — it’s about what’s best for the membership as a whole,” Herrera said.
The SEC’s feasibility study and grant application would have been among the best in the state and would have helped push the co-op to the top of the list. Part of that was listening to its customers and realizing that one of the biggest concerns was upload and download speeds.
Traditionally, high-speed internet meant fast download speeds, but downloading could be up to ten times slower. SEC’s goal is to deliver symmetric/mirrored Internet service at one gigabyte per second and potentially faster in the future as demand for bandwidth-intensive applications increases.
Magdalena Mayor Richard Rumpf is excited to see his town leap into the future.
“They are helping to bring the village into the 21st century, and the availability of broadband will make life easier for everyone. There are many people who do their education online, and it makes it much easier for them. It’s just about improving the community,” Rumpf said.
No cost to customers for the monthly service has been released, but the average price for 1 gig service is estimated at $90 per month.
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