Sierra County to provide $1 million to upgrade power poles for broadband

by Debora Nicoll | July 29, 2021
4 min read
Photograph by Thais Rocha Gualberto

Ethos Broadband representative Misti Willock and Sierra Electric Cooperative manager Denise Barrera told the Sierra County Commission this week that the project to deliver broadband access via fiber optic infrastructure had met with an unexpected hitch: the SEC utility poles are too short to support the needed cables. Willock and Barrera requested $1.9 million from the county to help SEC “make ready” an estimated 555 utility poles. The county commission agreed to provide SEC with $1,049,012.50 from the county’s share of the American Recovery Plan Act funds at the commission’s July 27 meeting.

This is the second time Ethos Broadband has met with an unexpected catch in their efforts to bring fiber optic broadband to southern Sierra County and a small section of Williamsburg in Phase 1 of the project. The first surprise was the requirement to obtain right-of-way access to properties of 1,400 potential customers before the Bureau of Land Management would grant a permit to begin construction.

Willock informed the commission that, after approximately four months’ work to contact potential customers, Ethos’s notaries public had filed the necessary easements with the Sierra County Clerk. Willock described the clerk’s office as being “insanely helpful.”

In an email interview, Willcock told the Sun that completion of the easement documentation was a “major milestone.” Ethos can now move on to applying for a construction permit from the Bureau of Land Management. While the federal permitting process is unpredictable, the company expects to start construction by the end of the year.

In March 2021, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act. The legislation provides coronavirus recovery funds to state and local governments, with $65.1 billion allocated to counties. Sierra County has received half of its allotted $1,049 million and will receive a second installment in about a year. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury website, the funds are limited to supporting public health expenditures, addressing negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, replacing lost public-sector revenue, providing premium pay for essential workers and investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

The county’s newly hired manager, Charlene Webb, deferred to County Attorney David Pato to explain the memorandum of understanding between Sierra County and SEC that was presented to the commission for consideration. Pato explained that the previous county administration (led by former County Manager Bruce Swingle) had believed that the best use of the ARPA funds was to assist SEC in making the infrastructure improvements needed for the broadband project. The commission was asked determine how much of the funds to allocate.

Commissioner Travis Day opined that he would prefer to transfer all of the funds to SEC since the county couldn’t really use the monies for any of the other allowable projects. “We could give it to local businesses, but we all ready maxed out the money we had to give (through the CARES Act), and we didn’t get any additional [requests] from businesses.” With no further discussion, the commission approved allocating all of the ARPA funds to the agreement with SEC.

Those funds fall short of the $1.9 million estimate Ethos provided the commission. In an email interview, Willock told the Sun that, to avoid further delays, Ethos will carry the added make-ready expense while working to secure additional grant funding.

Ethos hosted its first ribbon-cutting ceremony in the county this week to celebrate the completion of the Fiber Optic Education Network in Arrey. Ethos hopes to have the Sierra County project website fully functional before the end of the year so that prospective customers can determine which phase of the project will bring service to their area and enable them to pre-subscribe.

“As we all know, the last year and a half have shone a bright light on the need for broadband in our rural areas. It’s my hope that the permitting agencies will make it easier to gain permits . . . when service providers like us are building broadband networks for underserved or unserved communities,” Willock stated in her email. “As a community all of us need to change policies that impede broadband development BEFORE we take on the project.”

Clarification: Sierra County expects to receive a second round of Rescue Plan monies next spring. According to the U.S. Treasury Department website, “Local governments will receive funds in two tranches, with 50% provided beginning in May 2021 and the balance delivered approximately 12 months later.”


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...

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

The venture is a “ground-breaking” model of cooperation. This is the first time in New Mexico that an electric cooperative and a telecommunications company have...

UPDATE: Broadband company working to win BLM construction permit for fiber optics network in southern Sierra County
by Debora Nicoll | May 6, 2021

A subsidiary of Sacred Wind Communications, which is working in Sierra County to bring broadband to all residents south of Williamsburg, must notify and obtain...

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