PUD is here to stay, not sell
July 28, 2004
When I finished college and set out seeking a teaching position, Tahoe Truckee High School would become my first assignment. Now it is 35 years later and I am still with the school district. Upon arriving in Truckee in August 1969, one of my first encounters was with Pat Kirby, owner of “Tom’s TV Systems,” the local cable TV provider. Pat was a local businessman whose family had built the simple cable TV network. It was a sideline to his regular job of selling and repairing TVs in his local shop on Commercial Row. There were only five “off air” channels on the system at the time since satellite stations were not yet on the scene. Reception was generally good and service was fine. Pat Kirby continued to expand his cable TV system as more acreage was subdivided, including the infamous Tahoe Donner. Tom’s TV Systems became quite an operation. But alas, like many businesses, the time came and the business was sold – for a nice profit I am sure.After the sale of the locally owned Tom’s TV Systems in the 1970s, there came a succession of owners as the cable system was bought and sold several times. At first it remained Tom’s TV Systems, but under new ownership. However, eventually the name too was changed. Remember Truckee River Cable, Mickelson Media, and WestStar? Now it’s USA Media and soon to be Cebridge Connections?During the 1980s and 1990s, buying and selling cable TV systems across the United States was the way to make money – lots of money. Customers like you and me represent a monthly cash flow of income to the local cable company. If you are a subscriber, think about the total dollars you spend for TV entertainment. Prospective buyers of local cable TV systems look at customers as positive cash flow. We as a customer are an asset to the cable company and create value. Each customer of a cable TV network is valued in the thousands of dollars. Multiply the many thousand of cable customers times several thousands dollars each of value and you can quickly see that a small rural cable TV system like the one in Truckee could easily attract buyers who hope to reap a profit by owning it a few years, selling it, taking that profit and moving on.This is what has been happening in Truckee for the past 25 years. And now the local cable TV system faces yet another sale to yet another buyer.In last week’s Sierra Sun (the newsstand edition), there was an article about Cebridge purchasing USA Media. But something interesting was left off the newsstand edition that appeared in the Sierra Sun’s “on-line” Web edition. The Sierra Sun’s website posted the same article with additional information about the officers and founders of Cebridge and Cequill III Communications, the parent company. Let me quote from the Sierra Sun’s online article (underline emphasis is mine).”Jerald Kent and Howard Wood (Cebridge/Cequill founders) worked for Cencom Cable Associates and helped build it into a top-20 cable operation before selling it. They then founded Charter Communications, which they sold to Paul Allen for $4.5 billion when the company had 1.3 million subscribers. Kent remained at Charter as President, helping it to grow to the fourth largest publicly traded broadband communications in the country. Kent resigned as president and CEO of Charter in Sept 2001 to start Cequell III…” The Sierra Sun’s online article touts that the founders of Cequell “have plenty of experience in the cable industry.” Let me submit to you that they appear to have plenty of experience in buying and selling cable systems. Cebridge itself has been in operation only a few years. When might we expect Cebridge to sell the Truckee operation and move on like all its predecessors?The Truckee Donner Public Utility District – customer owned – formed in 1927 to provide reliable electricity to Truckee. It expanded its operations to water service in the 1930s, as local private water companies could not adequately serve the people. The last two local water companies – Glenshire Mutual and Donner Lake Utility – recently became a part of the TDPUD.There is a need in Truckee for reliable service for Internet access, broadband services, cable TV and voice (telephony). The Truckee Donner PUD has been diligently working to bring broadband -voice, video, data to Truckee. We look forward to competing with Cebridge. Isn’t it good for the people of Truckee to have a choice? The Truckee Donner Public Utility District is not adding broadband business operations for the purpose of “selling out at a profit.” We have been serving the people of Truckee for more than 75 years and will continue to be here for many more years to come doing what we do best: providing our citizens the best and most reliable services at fair and competitive prices. Jim Maass is president of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District Board of Directors.