Broadband Network to Connect Underserved in Sierra County

by Kevin Robinson-Avila | November 23, 2020
3 min read
Construction of the new fiber optics network, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, is expected to begin in a few weeks in all communities south of Williamsburg. Photograph by Thais Rocha Gualberto

Sacred Wind Communications is using a $6.1 million federal grant to extend broadband coverage in rural Sierra County through a new partnership with Sierra Electric Cooperative.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $20 million in grants in late October to four New Mexico telecom companies to build out high-speed Internet in underserved rural areas. The grants will connect up some 1,400 homes, businesses and public buildings in seven rural counties, according to New Mexico’s congressional delegation, which pushed for the funding through the USDA’s Reconnect Program.

In Sierra County, the grant will allow Sacred Wind to deploy a new, 271-mile fiber optic network to directly connect about 1,600 people who reside in zones where 75% of residents report lack of access to high-speed broadband. Sacred Wind will piggy back off Sierra Electric infrastructure, said Sacred Wind CEO John Badal.

“The co-op reached out to us to partner with them on providing broadband to their customers because they don’t have the in-house expertise to do it,” Badal told the Albuquerque Journal. “We’re doing the final preparation work now and staking out the exact routes to run fiber to homes. The co-op is helping us identify each pole that will have fiber attached to it.”

Construction will begin in a few weeks and conclude by year-end 2021.

“Customers will start receiving service as we finish segments,” Badal said. “We’ll light them up as we go.”

It’s the first such local broadband partnership between a rural telecom company and an electric cooperative, Badal said. But he hopes it will inspire more joint efforts, ideally through a statewide strategy to replace individual, isolated projects with a centrally-coordinated approach to bridge the digital divide.

“I’ve been saying for years that we need a statewide plan,” Badal said. “We need a central, coordinated effort that pulls in all state and federal resources to accelerate things. The COVID pandemic has shown us how urgent that is.”

That’s especially critical in Native American communities, where lack of broadband is particularly acute. Federal funding has helped to extend coverage there, but a lot more is needed, said Irene Flannery, director of AMERIND Critical Infrastructure, which assists tribes in deploying high-speed Internet.

A new Federal Communications Commission program to award unassigned spectrum in the 2.5 gigahertz band for free to tribal entities may help. The FCC awarded 154 licenses last month, 16 of them for New Mexico tribes.

It’s processing another 350 license requests from tribes nationwide. But advocates want the FCC to accept more applications, because the pandemic impeded many tribes from meeting an August deadline to apply.

“We’re happy to see many New Mexico pueblos among the first list of licensees,” Flannery said. “But many more in New Mexico and elsewhere were unable to apply because of COVID-19.”

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal, reprinted with permission

Editor’s Note: At the Sierra County Commission’s Nov. 17 meeting, County Manager Bruce Swingle announced that the USDA grant to Sacred Wind will allow it to undertake, in partnership with Sierra Electric, Phases 1 and 2 of the county’s broadband strategic plan completed last May. The plan, conducted by Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting, identified the location of broadband service gaps throughout the county and outlined the capital improvement projects needed to remedy those deficiencies.

The first two phases of the overall plan will bring fiber-optics broadband service to all communities in Sierra County south of Williamsburg, including Animas, Arrey, Caballo, Hillsboro, Kingston and Las Palomas, Swingle said. The two phases will be undertaken simultaneously. Phase 1 is expected to be completed by the summer of 2021 and Phase 2 by the end of 2021 or early in 2022,

A third and perhaps fourth phase of the plan to bring broadband access to the rest of the county is dependent on the availability of broadband licenses and funding, Swingle noted.


Kevin Robinson-Avila is a staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.


Preview: Sierra County Commission’s Dec. 17 meeting
by Kathleen Sloan | April 25, 2020

The most important items on Sierra County Commission’s Dec. 17 meeting are a contract hiring a company to assess how to improve broadband service throughout…

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