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Gila EDA Roundtable, part 1, addressing rural broadband needs

The Gila Economic Development Alliance held its monthly Roundtable Friday, Oct. 18, to a crowd of people wanting to hear about the Regional Broadband Implementation Project.

Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments director, started off the discussion by saying: "Susan (Oberlander of CTC Technology) kept pushing me to apply for the RBIP, which encompasses the four counties of Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron. It was terrifying for me, because I don't have much background in broadband. It didn't take me long to realize the need. We are one of two pilot sites in the state. The other one is in the northeast part of New Mexico."

"I feel like every one of you realizes the value of broadband and the need for it here," Oberlander said. There are two issues with adoption—affordability and a gap analysis. The purpose of this project is to find out the needs. It's a continual exercise to get more data to find out about the data gaps. Broadband is important for the schools: for Western New Mexico University for distance education; for healthcare it's telemedicine, which is helpful in remote areas; and for businesses in more remote areas."

She said one of the major interests in the gap analysis is to find the completely unserved areas. "If you are in one, please contact Priscilla and let her know where you are. She is a tremendous asset to you and to us."

Oberlander said the goal is to identify potential projects to be worked on.  "I came to this project because I live in rural Rio Arriba County, and I understand the need for broadband for rural areas. Joanne's (Hoavis of CTC Technology was unable to attend) firm has the expertise. We have to look at strategic plans, funding plans and possibly business plans and then go through the implementation. I think there is a real chance to get unserved areas up and running."

Jeremiah Garcia, Gila EDA president, asked for those present to ask questions. He started out by asking how much the project was costing.

Oberlander said she and Hoavis have contracts with the state, with about $100,000 for consulting.

George Julian Dworin, Silver City Arts and Cultural District and Tourism, asked what the current physical capacity was and where it was coming from.

Kurt Albershardt, owner of the Murray Hotel, said until recently only one trunk line for CenturyLink, cable, Verizon wireless and the former Signal Peak came into the area. "Twice the line has been cut, stopping Internet access, as well as telephone access. Western New Mexico Communications turned up a new line from Lordsburg, and there is another route to the north."

John Francis of WNM Communications said the company has 10 gigabytes of capacity, with the capability of expanding to 200 GB. "One line goes to Socorro and the line to the south splits around Separ to go to Tucson and El Paso."

Albershardt also said the prices WNM Communications has to pay are five times those paid by companies in Dallas and Los Angeles.

Oberlander asked about outage rates.

Francis said no total outages had occurred.

Bruce McKinney, Silver City business owner, said the area where he lives on the map that was handed out allegedly has DSL access, but, in fact, it has no phone line, so there is no service, and "I'm just on the edge of wireless acess."

Francis said the map is generic to show where wireless is not available. "I want to implement GIS on top of this map."

Oberlander pointed out that access still depends on voluntary compliance.

Albershardt suggested starting with the customer and "eating the upload and download speeds."

Garcia pointed out that a lot of the infrastructure is cost prohibitive.

Herbie Marsden, Silver City resident, said the project should consider the person who cannot afford the broadband. "Don't relegate them to second- or third-class citizens. If we say; 'no, it's too expensive, we can't do this,' we're saying: 'You're going to stay poor.' We need to say: 'yes, we can do this' and then make it happen."

George Julian Dworin of Silver City Arts and Culture District and Tourism asked if the wireless position is fixed and mobile is tied into it.

Francis said that was true in some cases.

Albershardt said: "Wireless providers are trying to get capacity."

Mary Stoecker of the Southwest Energy and Green Jobs Taskforce said she knows of two people who want to, but can't move to the area because they can't do business with the lack of broadband. "This is an economic and business development project."

Francis asked Oberlander about what she and the project have done with issues of adoption.

"What we hear is we want more adoption," Oberlander replied. "Customers want broadband. It's an issue of technology, which is not a problem in its various forms. We want more private entry and want to know if there are more ways to implement broadband. I think it's important for citizens to become empowered. We have to take care of ourselves.

"We are gathering supply and demand information," she continued. "We can provide information to a provider who may have an interest. We're here to help find solutions to meet demand. We have to have a plan."

"We're talking about people who want to sign up for the Affordable Care Act," Tiffany Knauf, Grant County Community Health Council coordinator, said. "Without an email address, they cannot set it up."

Garcia asked that another meeting be held for "true input, so we're working together as a team."

"Part of our project is a technology team," Lucero said. "Please contact me if you are interested."

The next article will address the presentation by Wells Fargo, followed by an article on organization updates from the community.

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