FARMINGTON — A federal program aimed at boosting access to broadband service is receiving scrutiny from New Mexico's senators and representatives who say it could harm rural residents' access to news.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, and Reps. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., sent a letter to Julius Genachoswski, Federal Communications Commission chairman, late last week urging the commission to preserve access to free, over-the-air television broadcasts.

"It is important that the FCC is aware of the issues that impact people in rural communities and that those factors are considered in their rule making process," Luján said in an statement emailed to The Daily Times Monday afternoon. "Over-the-air TV broadcasts provide an important source of news and information that many people in rural communities rely on, particularly in San Juan County and the Navajo Nation."

The FCC's program is tied to language in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 directing the commission to allow interested television stations to free up their broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband service.

Proponents hope the program will boost innovation and investment in mobile broadband technology, support a nationwide public safety network and return money to the U.S. Treasury, according to the letter.

Access to traditionally free, over-the-air television broadcasts may not be protected under that program, the letter said.

These broadcasts rely on translator stations that relay television transmissions to areas that would otherwise receive poor coverage, or none at all.

"This makes broadcast television all the more useful to many New Mexicans, especially during inclement weather events, wildfires, and other emergencies," the letter said.

About 600,000 New Mexicans rely on over-the-air television broadcasts, according to estimates included in the letter.

No data on how many San Juan County residents rely on over-the-air television was immediately available.

"It is critical that as efforts move forward with their plan to reallocate spectrum that people in these communities continue to have access to these broadcasts, especially those who do not have access to other sources of information, such as cable TV or high speed Internet," Luján said in his statement.

Greg Yee can be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.