Earlier this year, Ethos Broadband, a division of New Mexico-based SWC Telesolutions, which has obtained governmental grants to bring high-speed broadband to parts of Sierra County, and Sierra Electric Cooperative, whose power poles will physically support most of Ethos’s fiber-optic lines, informed the Sierra County Commission that SEC’s existing power poles were too short to meet governmental regulations. SEC asked the commission for $1.9 million to help replace the inadequate poles. The commission subsequently transferred to the electric co-op the county’s $2.1 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds. SEC received the monies in two installments: the first, in July, as reported by the Sun (see Related stories below), and the second in August.
SEC did not begin the replacement project until mid-November because of the unavailability of new poles. According to Denise Barrera, SEC’s general manager, the delay was the result of supply-chain slowdowns nationwide.
“The materials will arrive in phases,” Barrera told the Sun, but SEC expects no further delays in obtaining supplies.
The contractor who is replacing the poles has a single crew in the vicinity of the Monticello RV Park in Elephant Butte at the north end of the planned network and heading south towards Rock Canyon, also in Elephant Butte. When that section of the replacement project is finished, work will begin on the “old highway [State Route 187] going towards Caballo.”
To complete broadband installation in Sierra County, lines will have to pass through numerous federal and state properties. In cases like this, one of the agencies that owns key properties will take the lead in the permitting process, Misti Willock, director of strategic partnerships for Ethos, explained. The BLM is lead agency for permitting for this project.
Since Ethos is new to this region of New Mexico, it has been necessary to invest time and effort in establishing a “working relationship” with the BLM, Willock said. To build trust, Ethos has had to “show them we want to do everything the way they want.”
Ethos expects the construction permit to be granted by the end of January. If that timetable is met, construction will start by the end of the first quarter of 2022. At that time, Ethos will follow the path of the upgraded poles and begin “dropping lines” to the homes of broadband subscribers.
Ethos is also working to obtain additional governmental grants in order to bring broadband to other parts of Sierra County. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun Phase 3 of its Rural eConnectivity Program (frequently called ReConnect) and Ethos is applying for some of those funds. Willock told the Sun they are focusing on finding the resources to serve the neediest parts of the county, She provided the example of a mother in a rural area who has had to spend hours commuting with her children to a locale that offered internet access so that the children could do their homework.
Willock encouraged Sierra County residents sign up for broadband at ethosbroadband.com. Even residents not in the Phase 1 region of Williamsburg south to the county line can sign up. “That will allow us to better define where the needs are greatest,” Willock told the Sun.