Boys & Girls Clubs one of four locations in county to offer free broadband service

Lift Zones created at 45 sites across state by Comcast Corporation

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — While access to high-speed Internet remains elusive in many places in San Juan County, four nonprofit organizations or social service agencies in the area now offer the service to their clients, thanks to a telecommunications provider.

The Comcast Corporation has created 45 so-called "Lift Zones" across New Mexico, including five in San Juan County, which provide free broadband connectivity to community members.

The local Lift Zones are located at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Farmington and Bloomfield, Capacity Builders in Farmington, the Goodwill of New Mexico Farmington center, and the annex/fitness center at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington.

The initiative is part of the company's Internet Essentials program that was launched in 2011, which has helped provide nearly 300,000 low-income New Mexico residents with a home Internet connection, according to a news release from Comcast.

"Over the past few years, broadband access has become increasingly important," Chris Dunkeson, New Mexico area president for the company, stated in the news release. "Lift Zones and the pairing of our Internet Essentials program with the (federal Affordable Connectivity Program) are milestones for digital inclusivity. They are providing opportunities for students and adults in New Mexico to connect online, where it matters most to them."

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Nikki Taylor

NikkI Taylor, the development director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Farmington and Bloomfield, said the availability of free broadband to the clients her organization serves has made a huge difference to those youngsters. She estimated the Farmington location serves 300 young people, while the Bloomfield locations serves another 60.

The service was installed at both Boys & Girls Clubs locations last spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, and Taylor said having high-speed Internet service was a significant advantage to those children, many of whom used it to complete their schoolwork.

She said many of the families her organization works with don't have any Internet service at home, but the Lift Zones at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Farmington and Bloomfield provided free broadband connectivity for students who needed to participate in Zoom meeting sessions with their teachers or access other online learning programs because of the remote learning models that were being used at that time. The service also offers them access to digital tutoring programs.

"The (Internet) service we had before could never have supported the hundreds of people" at the two clubs who use broadband now, she said, explaining that before the Lift Zones were installed, the clubs' Internet service was adequate to meet the needs of only the organization's staff members and a handful of students.

"It was a big change for us and for them," she said. " … It was a game changer."

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Taylor said the broadband connectivity has been especially important to the youngsters, as it provides seamless streaming ability — something they badly need to be able to communicate with their teachers. The club's old Internet service frequently got bogged down in those circumstances, she said, resulting in streaming interruptions and delays for staff members who were trying to get their work done.

"Everybody is able to get online at the same time, and there have been no complaints, no issues," she said.

The students at the clubs also are able to use the broadband service to access online games and other activities during their down time, she said, which is something many of them can't do at home.

According to the news release, the Lift Zones also are being taken advantage of by community members outside the traditional users of those nonprofit organizations or social service agencies. Students and adults can enter a Lift Zone facility and connect their personal device to the broadband network to work remotely, look for a job or improve their digital skills, the press release states.

The Boys & Girls Clubs locations in San Juan County aren't open to adults who want to access the service, Taylor said, but she applauded the idea of other local organizations being able to meet that need.

"When (the proposal for the Lift Zones) was brought to us, it sounded like something we could do to add to all the great things we do for children," she said. "But this has been a boost for all these community organizations around us. … This provides broadband access for all the families in that area who are able to visit the Lift Zones."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.