Panhandle Telephone Co-op Will Build Fiber Network in Rural New Mexico With $43 Million Grant

Panhandle Telephone Coop logo

Panhandle Telephone Cooperative Inc. (PTCI) has announced the broadband provider will be dramatically expanding access to its fiber broadband services in New Mexico thanks to a new $43.4 million grant made possible by federal infrastructure legislation.

The Cooperative currently predominately offers fiber broadband, phone, and cellular wireless phone service to subscribers in Oklahoma and Texas. The $43 million cash infusion will allow the cooperative to expand access outside of its existing footprint into rural Union County, in northeast New Mexico.

As per grant rules, the network will deliver speeds of 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) downstream and 20 Mbps upstream, but the cooperative does not yet have a construction timeline or information on planned tiers and pricing.

PTCI’s existing deployments in Texas provide locals with uncapped fiber access at symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps, 250 Mbps, and 1 Gbps for $60, $86, and $116 per month, respectively. The company stopped offering TV services in 2020, but launched its own cellular network in its existing territories starting in 2021.

Panhandle Telephone Coop HQ building

The project’s $43 million grant for expansion into New Mexico was made possible courtesy of a recently announced fourth funding round for the U.S Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program. Last month the program announced another $714 million in grants and loans aimed at shoring up broadband access to long unserved or underserved rural Americans.

“High-speed internet is a key to prosperity for people who live and work in rural communities,” USDA Secretary Vilsack said of the latest awards. “Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can ensure that rural communities have access to the Internet connectivity needed to continue to expand the economy from the bottom up and middle out and to make sure rural America remains a place of opportunity to live, work, and raise a family.”

According to the USDA’s breakdown, the $43 million award (half of which is a grant award and the other half a loan) to the Panhandle Telephone Cooperative will help fund a fiber deployment to 1,284 people, 36 businesses, 696 farms and three educational facilities in Beaver and Cimarron counties in Oklahoma and Union County in New Mexico.

Bootcamp flyer

As with all federal grant winners, subscribers in range of this new fiber network will also have access to the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which offers a $30 discount to low-income residents off of their broadband access costs. Though there is an ongoing debate about the renewal of the program, which is expected to run out of funds within a year.

New Mexico has historically ranked among the least connected broadband states in the nation, ranking 49th in overall subscription rates and 33rd in terms of access to gigabit broadband. Late last month ILSR held broadband bootcamps in the state to discuss why affordable broadband is essential to community health, and educate locals on how they can help shore up access.

“The USDA’s decision to allocate these funds demonstrates a commitment to bridging the digital divide and fostering the growth of underserved communities,” Kelly Schlegel, Director for the Office of Broadband Access and Expansion said of the grant. “This substantial investment will facilitate the expansion of high-speed internet infrastructure, enabling individuals and businesses in Union County to thrive in the digital age.”

The USDA ReConnect grant authorization map makes it clear that numerous additional cooperatives, including the ENMR Telephone Cooperative and the Continental Divide Electric Cooperative are key in shoring up rural broadband access across the state.

Check out this PCTI video on how the cooperative's "Rural Surge initiative to bring Gigabit symmetrical fiber to rural homes and farms throughout the Oklahoma Panhandle."

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