[Editor's Note: Because several sessions took place the first and second days of the meeting, this will be a multi-part series of articles.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The last presentation on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, to the members of the Interim Legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee had the title: Developing Remote/Solo Work Centers: Challenges, Benefits and Case Examples. Speakers were Economic Development Planner Emily Schilling of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, Vice President Ralph Gauer of Karen Carr Studio and Sacred Wind Communications Chief Executive Officer John Badal.
Schilling said the COG covers the four counties of Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron. "We provide technical assistance for whatever the local governments need. We build collaboration and have an MOU (memorandum of understanding) among 30 government entities. We also partner with non-profits. We have all the rural characteristics. Forty-five percent of Catron County has inadequate telecommunications, and 64 percent of Grant County."
"The good news is that the COG is taking the innovative way by launching a virtual business incubator," Schilling continued. "We take the services of the Small Business Development Center, the New Mexico Economic Development Department, and WESST and put them all in one spot. It helps local businesses with their marketing needs, funding access and business plans. We have training classes. We connect the dots. We advocate for all of our area MainStreet projects, and we are hoping to see our empty business corridors fill. We work to make sure all players are at the table. We have room for improvement."
She said Millennials want the rural lifestyle, but want the connectivity to the outside world to build their businesses. "Our broadband infrastructure is at 45 percent, with unequal connectivity. It even impacts tourists. Microsoft is doing a pilot program using unused TV signals for broadband. Texas and Arizona got in on the pilot program. We ask that New Mexico be in the next level of the program."
Gauer thanked the committee members for their interest in the topic. "We feel like this is a special place. In our particular case, we do stuff with pixels—videos and murals for museums and we work with science organizations. We look like Silver City, where most of the work is done by women. We work internationally. We are unashamedly a small business."
"Kids in Silver City are as smart as any anywhere else," Gauer continued. "They can compete on the state, national or international front."
"We need bandwidth to get paid." He noted that upload speeds are what one gets paid for. "To collaborate on the national stage, it's difficult. We can be talking days to upload our very large files. Our upload speed, just this morning, was 1.09 Mbps. Compare that to states where our competitors live and we can't compete with them or the world."
Gauer said when his wife, Karen, was on the ground in Ethiopia, she got higher wireless speeds than in Silver City. "Things I need to put out into the world, I can't. We're good citizens, but we might as well put zeroes and ones on carrier pigeons and throw them out the window. If it rains, we may not be able to do business. All the calls to action you will hear are true. I hope you leave with a sense of profound urgency. I am asking you to help me catch up to the competition."
"I will reinforce what Emily and Ralph have said," Badal said. "When we offer upload speed, it is dedicated to the need. My business covers seven cities. Video production in Grants is sent to a TV station in Gallup. Often they would send a CD or thumb drive of the video to Gallup. Now, they have our service and they can send it electronically.
"I would tell folks at the COG level or in education to help make a clearinghouse where I could go and say: 'Here is my idea.' The COG tells me where to go and who to talk to. We have to know copper and wireless. These fields are directly related. I can hire locally and give them local training. It increases the quality of business and the quality of life."
Sweetser noted that when an upload is interrupted, "we have to stop and start over."
Gauer agreed. "Often we send media by UPS and FedEx, but many want it electronically only, because of security."
Sweetser agreed that the area has appeal to millennials who want the quality of life, but need the technology.
"From one end of Morroco to the other, they have good wireless," Badal said. "The king said if you provide wireless to Marrakech, the company is forced to make it universal. I hope this panel can work together like Mohammad VI."
Sen. Ron Griggs said Sacred Wind is running wire that will deliver certain things. "What's the difference to provide higher speeds? Is there a different capacity and where is it ever prohibitive?"
Badal explained it as economies of scale. The rights-of-way and trenching are expensive. Laying the conduit is the least expensive. Once you've laid it, it's pennies more for a 288-strand versus a 144-strand cable. It makes sense if you need 36, to lay the 144. "We can get multi-Gbs and can get all 60 on one strand."
Griggs said if one can run bigger cables, it offers more opportunities.
Gauer said he spent a brief time as the Chamber of Commerce director and in charge of economic development. "It's a bell curve. We're creating community. The cost of not acting in this regard is creating communities of aging."
Griggi said it would make sense to run as much as possible. "I would love to have the Legislature look at doing away with income tax on Social Security, but then, how would we provide the $100 million hole? We can't put it on the wage earner."
Mark Edwards of the Legislative Council Service said he's in the job of getting presenters to tell stories to this panel. To Badal he said he didn't expand on the positive feedback loop where the growth of the cottage industry on the Navajo Nation has gone. "If you find a person with a story, call me."
The session ended for the day.
The next article will feature the Thursday morning presentation of Marketing a County for Solar Generation: Obstacles and Benefits.