Rural Sierra County’s future broadband provider will draw on its experience bringing telecommunication services to the Navajo Nation

by Debora Nicoll | December 3, 2020
4 min read
Rural tribal communities in northwestern New Mexico lacked even basic phone services until SWC entered the field in 2006 with a commitment to helping the Navajo Nation bridge the digital divide. Photograph courtesy of Sacred Wind Communications

Sacred Wind Communications will again be an industry pioneer in bringing broadband access to the Sierra County south of Williamsburg. 

Company CEO John Badal described SWC’s broadband partnership with Sierra Electric Cooperative as a fortuitous and first-ever meshing of expertise. SWC’s Director of Sales and Strategic Partnerships Misti Willock, who has a home in Sierra County, was aware of the lack of broadband service in most parts of the county. She began conversations with SEC Manager Denise Barrera and Sierra County Manager Bruce Swingle about how SWC might help to bridge the digital divide here, as the company has done for its primary customers, the Navajo Nation.

Badal said that joint venture by the two companies and county government is a “ground-breaking” model of cooperation. This is the first time in New Mexico that an electric cooperative and a telecommunications company have begun working together to bring broadband to a rural community so lacking in access. SEC will provide much of the infrastructure for the project, while SWC will provide the broadband expertise.

headshot of John Badal
SWC’s John Badal Photograph courtesy of Sacred Wind Communications

Established in 2006 and based in Yatahey, NM, SWC began operations as a privately owned phone and broadband company in the northwest quadrant of New Mexico, where the company has brought high-quality telecommunications services to 400 square miles of mostly Navajo lands, but also some other parts of McKinley and Cibola counties. The Sierra County project will be its first foray into the southern part of the state.

Badal estimates that the total cost for the project, which entails building a 271-mile fiber optic network to directly connect about 1,600 people to broadband services, will exceed $9 million. SWC has received a $6.1 million grant from the US. Department of Agriculture to bring broadband to rural areas and a matching $2.1 million from the New Mexico Department of Information Technology to help with Phase 1, the engineering portion of the project. Other funding will come directly from SWC.

Badal said that the grants from the USDA and DoIT are essential to bringing broadband to an area like Sierra County, where the terrain is difficult and the density of future customers is low, though not as low as in the Navajo communities. Without government support, this would not be a good business venture for SWC.

Phase 1 will take several months. All network routes will be surveyed and permits obtained wherever public and private lands must be crossed. Where needed, updated environmental and archeological permits will have to be obtained. Most of the broadband fiber will be strung on existing SEC poles, but some will be buried. Every pole must be examined and will be replaced if it does not meet the necessary criteria.

SWC will be assisted by a subcontractor, Finley Engineering, a nationwide consulting firm serving the broadband and energy industries, with which SWC had a prior working relationship. Finley co-authored the Sierra County Broadband Strategic Plan (which you can read here).

The grants to SWC are limited to the southern portion of Sierra County. Providing broadband access to the other parts of the county is dependent on the availability of FCC licenses, which were recently put up for auction. Badal could not yet comment on the results of the auction or say whether SWC will be involved in additional projects here.

SWC plans to open an office in the county and several technicians to maintain the infrastructure and operate the business will be located here. SWC will also partner with SEC to develop an interactive website, allowing Sierra County residents to enter their addresses and determine if they will be able to access SWC’s broadband service and when it will be available. SEC Manager Barrera said that one of the requirements of the partnership is that all of SEC customers in the area to be serviced have access to broadband service.


Debora Nicoll covers the Sierra County Commission for the Sun.

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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.


Broadband Network to Connect Underserved in Sierra County
by Kevin Robinson-Avila | November 23, 2020

A $6.1 million federal grant will allow Sacred Wind Communications to deploy a 271-mile fiber-optic network to connect about 1,600 Sierra Countians who live in...

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