UPDATE: Broadband company working to win BLM construction permit for fiber optics network in southern Sierra County

by Debora Nicoll | May 6, 2021
5 min read
Photograph by Thais Rocha Gualberto

Ethos Broadband, a subsidiary of Sacred Wind Communications, which has been working in Sierra County to bring broadband to all residents south of Williamsburg, must notify and obtain right-of-way permission from 1,400 potential broadband customers before the Bureau of Land Management will grant a permit to begin construction of the necessary fiber optics network.

A full-time and a part-time team, each consisting of a notary public and an easement specialist, are currently working to satisfy the BLM requirement, Misti Willock, SWC’s director of sales and strategic partnerships, told the Sun.

Urvashi Bhakta, field contract supervisor for Ethos, is a leader of one of those teams. Over the last month, Bhakta has traveled throughout the southern part of the county, collecting residents’ signatures granting permission to add a cable to a pole or bury a cable on their properties. According to the Ethos website: “This will make it possible to connect your home to our fiber network at a later date if you choose to use our services.” If digging is required later to install a cable, Ethos “will not leave a mess,” Willock pledged.

Ethos will make three attempts to obtain signatures in person. In addition, the company is sending letters to out-of-town property owners, informing them of the need to grant right-of-way permission if they wish to utilize broadband in the future without incurring the expense of bringing a line onto their properties. Willock advised owners of undeveloped parcels to grant permission now if they wish to be eligible for future service.

For those who do not want to wait until they are contacted, the right-of-way permission form can be obtained by calling Ethos at 833-650-0480. Property owners must have their signatures notarized before the completed form is returned to Ethos. Forms can also be notarized and turned in at the Elephant Butte office of Sierra Electric Cooperative, which is partnering with SCW by allowing use of its electric poles for stringing fiber optics cables.

According to the Ethos website, granting right-of-way permission does not commit property owners to sign up for high-speed internet service, but does entitle them to free installation when the service becomes available—saving them $500 or more, according to Willock.

The Sierra County broadband project started after SWC successfully bid to bring broadband to the public schools in Arrey and Garfield, using E-Rate funds the schools had received through the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Since Arrey is not served by Sierra Electric Co-op, SWC is burying the school’s fiber optics cables along Highway 187’s public right of way.

Arrey and Garfield schools will manage their own internet services, which should be up and running by June, according to Ethos field supervisor Bhakta. Ethos will then begin work to provide internet access to residents of those villages, using the existing “backbone” of the schools’ conduits.

While working on this project, SWC became aware of significant broadband issues throughout the county. Residents’ anecdotal accounts of slow internet access was confirmed by the county’s broadband strategic plan, which was based on speed tests that showed local service was of significantly poorer quality than various internet providers had reported to the government. “We observed almost immediately,” noted Findley Engineering and CCG Consulting, the firms that prepared the strategic plan, “that the county has some of the worst broadband conditions we’ve witnessed anywhere.”

SWC was subsequently awarded a ReConnect grant from the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and a matching grant from the New Mexico Department of Information Technology to support construction of a broadband network south of Williamsburg.

Enhancement of internet accessibility in the rest of the county is still in the early stages. The FCC held a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction in November 2020. Auction winners will receive federal funds over 10 years to help subsidize the construction of broadband networks providing download speeds of at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) in underserved parts of the country. The RDOF does not grant the winners the sole right to provide service in a certain area; it simply excludes other providers in that area from receiving FCC funding.

Two companies won bids to expand their networks into parts of Sierra County.

Resound Networks LLC, which currently provides wireless internet to parts of eastern New Mexico, the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma, has been granted $2.9 million to connect 683 properties in the county. Windstream, a national telecommunications company operating in 18 states that already provides broadband in Sierra County, has been granted $21,744 to connect 44 additional properties. (To find out if your property is potentially included in these arrangements, go to https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/rdof-phase-i-dec-2020/ and type your physical address in the search box. If your property pops up in a green area on the map, Resound’s or Windstream’s build-out may eventually reach you.)

Ethos placed bids in the RDOF auction for locations in Sierra County, but did not win. Nevertheless, the company, whose name was chosen to reflect a commitment to “working in an ethical manner,” is seeking other sources of funding to expand into remote areas of the county such as Winston, Chloride and Monticello. “A lot [of opportunities for funding] will depend on Biden’s American Rescue Act” and other proposed federal legislation, SWC’s Willock said.

“We aren’t in it to make a lot of money,” she added, “we are working to provide the services where there is the greatest need.”

Ethos plans to rent space in the county soon to house equipment and personnel. The company recently hired Paul Tooley, the former emergency services administrator for Sierra County, to be outside plant supervisor. 


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...

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