11 Dec Communications Tower in San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca
Communications with the outside world in the small maguey growing and mezcal producing community of San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca have developed at their own pace. The first telephone line was installed in one location in the village around fifteen years ago. Anyone calling for one of the pueblo’s five hundred inhabitants would call this line. The responder would take a message and ask the caller to call back in fifteen or twenty minutes. The message would then be broadcast over the village megaphone, still a staple in this, and many other Zapotec and remote villages, with ejidal or land grant privileges.
The scratchy mega phone would announce that Don or Doña (insert name here) had a phone call and if they were hearing this, could they please come to the little house, or caseta, to wait for the caller to make their second, or third, or fourth attempt at the connection.
Satellite television arrived before most homes could be outfitted with their own private landline. Even still, the private lines did not have Oaxacan area codes, tapping into a system fraught with fallibility. Del Maguey’s producing partners, the family of Paciano Cruz Nolasco, went through five different phone numbers and landline variations between 2014-2018.
Nariz a Nariz
The beauty of this pockmarked version of progress entailed that all real interactions had to be done in person, or nariz a nariz (nose to nose) as Ron Cooper, Del Maguey Founder and Keeper of the Customs frequently adages.
Yet San Luis del Rio is not particularly close to what some might like to call “the action.” As the roadways have steadily improved over time, it remains a two and a half hour drive from Oaxaca de Juarez, and two hours between the Del Maguey bottling bodega in Teotitlan del Valle.
Townspeople intent on conducting their maguey cultivation or mezcal production businesses via cellular networks could catch their first whiff of a signal in the town of Totalapam, one hour from San Luis del Rio towards Oaxaca, or in the maguey growing community of Soledad Salinas, another hour in the other direction, towards the Mexican Isthmus.
As far as internet goes, the story remained the same, with brief glimmers of a breakthrough into the breathtakingly gorgeous, and signal stopping valley leading to the town. In 2017, one family managed to install a basic satellite internet system in their home. They would sell fichas, or time chips to those patient enough to wait ten or twenty minutes to pull up their email or Facebook account.
As a result, Del Maguey’s team in Mexico has spent the last few years exploring various options to learn if there were any viable technologies available to bring either telecommunications or a dependable internet service to the village.
In Teotitlan del Valle, we found success bringing competition to that village in order to convince the national communications giant that these villages deserve improved infrastructure and customer service.
Skynet-No not that one
After enough research and budgeting, we received the news from Sky Net, a rural internet provider in Oaxaca, that it would be possible to install a tower to tower radio wave signal in San Luis del Rio.
A handful of other providers had always told us that yes, it would be possible to install this type of system in the village, but due to the outlay of the valley, we would most likely have to install a series of towers, at quite a high cost, in order to deliver the signal there.
With Skynet, they explained that with one well positioned tower near the Oaxaca-Veracruz border, there was an opening created by the dip in the rolling hills above San Luis del Rio.
Installing a Signal
We set out one morning in August 2018 with machetes in hand, and made our way to the top of the hill where the receiving signal tower could be installed. It took us about three hours clawing and chopping through under and over brush, but we found the ideal spot for the tower.
From there, everything moved extremely fast. Del Maguey was already happily committed to paying the installation costs for the first twenty families who wanted internet.
The tower was installed within two weeks, and the twenty homes (including the DM Palenque) all had internet signal before the end of August. Not only that, because no telecommunications companies are working in the area, each house now has an outside line that allows them to make any phone call across North America, for free, for five minutes. Then the connection is stopped and they simply have to call back again, if need be. A lot of important conversations can be had in five minutes. Add in Whatsapp, and wifi messaging, and San Luis del Rio has access to nearly every medium afforded the rest of the state.
After a couple months of observation, the installation appears to be a success. There was always some hesitation thinking of certain negative circumstances that come with more accessibility to any kind of information, but that preoccupation has been short lived.
Access to education and information is a basic human right, one that has been denied or seriously impeded in many Oaxacan communities over time.
As a result, we are happy to have accomplished this task from the purview of social sustainability, and are looking forward to continue reporting on various other projects that are underway.