Northern New Mexico's Community Network

Sunset Magazine Article

By Dale Conour
Crossing the
Digital Divide

Western cities and towns have embraced the future, and it is the Web. As a case in point, consider Taos, New Mexico. Getting the town "wired" started with an old-fashioned form of communication. Recalls, Judith Pepper: "Back in '93 there was just a group of people sitting around in a coffee shop saying, 'Gee, the Internet has started, it's available for the public to use - what are we going to do about getting it way out here?"

What they did was form La Plaza Telecommunity, a nonprofit group whose stated goal is to "improve communication and information sharing in northern New Mexico by providing access to information technology resources, education in computer and internet technology, and a virtual library of regional information and resources."

La Plaza has trained more than 5,000 people to e-mail, surf, and search the World Wide Web by offering free classes to the public and by opening three facilities to those without Internet access at home. It also offers Web design courses and has helped more than 50 nonprofit agencies generate their own websites. In addition, La Plaza now provides Internet service to two school districts, training teacher "champions" who can show colleagues how to use the Web in their classrooms. "We want to decrease the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots," says Pepper, La Plaza's executive director.

The enterprise has gone beyond bringing Taos to the world and the world to Taos. More important, perhaps, it has helped bring its diverse communities - Native Americans, Latinos, Anglos, the rich and the poor, city government and public citizens -together in a way a coffee shop couldn't.

Taos municipal offices are now connected with La Plaza, and, Pepper says, "we have 30-odd local associations online and beginning to communicate together in a way that they wouldn't have before."

She adds, "The dialogue is not always friendly, but at least it's a start." Check out La Plaza at

More Wired Towns
While nearly every city that owns its own utilities is at least considering getting into the Internet access business, Click! Network, a division of mighty Tacoma Power, has already wired Tacoma with fiber-optic and coaxial cable for cable TV and Internet access. About 13,000 customers have linked in, and hundreds more are on waiting lists. Go to

Santa Monica has used its Public Electronic Network, the first government-sponsored interactive electronic network, as a virtual bulletin board since 1989. You can see the current iteration of the bulletin board at, or call (310) 458-8383 for more information.

Kent, Washington, in partnership with the local school district, employees the Big Blue Bus to help residents jump on the technology bandwagon. Loaded with seven-computer workstations and wireless Internet access, the bus takes computer learning beyond the classroom and out into the community. Call (253) 856-5030 for details.

Phoenix keeps in touch with its residents through "Phoenix at Your Fingertips," an excellent community resource available through the Internet, dial-up access, and public workstations. Check it out at

A couple of other notable websites are produced by the cities of Palm Springs ( and Sunnyvale, California (

For questions regarding our website:
   E-Mail - La Plaza Telecommunity