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PUD survey finds strong market for services

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

According to results from a recent survey on Truckee-Donner Public Utility District’s potential to provide cable and Internet services, 69 percent of customers said they would be likely to purchase those services from one company if that company were the TDPUD.

The survey, conducted by Sacramento-based Sierra Market Research (SMR), was developed to help the district evaluate its ability to enter into the telecommunications business and construct a fiber-optic network in Truckee.

More than 300 TDPUD customers participated in the telephone survey, which inquired how full-time residents currently use Internet and cable services as well as their satisfaction with current providers.

“The purpose for a phone survey of this type was to ensure that a valid survey was conducted,” TDPUD director of telecommunications Alan Harry said. “The results are in line with comments we’ve received by phone, by email and even folks on the street. We were very happy to have our beliefs validated by this survey.”

Television signals are provided to Truckee residents by USA Media, Dish Network and Direct TV, according to the survey, with the majority of customers receiving services from USA Media. Of the 290 USA Media customers surveyed, 13 percent indicated they were “very satisfied” with station selection; 4 percent indicated they were “very satisfied” with the price they paid for their signal; and 8 percent indicated they were “very satisfied” with their current choices for a signal provider.

Roger Terneuzen, Regional Manager for USA Media, said based on the preliminary report, he was concerned with how questions were phrased to customers and how the grading system was evaluated.

SMR used a school grade system, where “A” equals very satisfied, “B” is somewhat satisfied, “C” is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, “D” is somewhat satisfied and “F” is not at all satisfied.

“What I would be interested in seeing, is what questions were asked and how they were asked,” Terneuzen said.

He said in the presentation to TDPUD board members, a grade of A or B was considered favorable, but C should also be included as favorable, which would make USA Media’s grade among customer satisfaction much higher. For example, when customers were asked how satisfied they were with USA Media’s station selection, 28 percent said they were somewhat satisfied, 29 percent said they were neither satisfied or dissatisfied, 22 percent said they were somewhat dissatisfied and 8 percent said they were not at all satisfied.

“I’d have to do a lot more homework (on this survey),” Terneuzen said. “To me, this survey was more about my business than it was about their business. Absolutely, I am concerned about the outcome of it.”

In terms of Internet service, the surveyed demonstrated 51 percent of TDPUD customers surveyed use a local or regional Internet Service Provider, 16 percent use a national ISP, 11 percent responded they used “other” Internet services or “didn’t know” and 22 percent did not have an ISP.

Harry said the survey did not focus on specific ISPs because there are just so many.

“And we didn’t focus on telephone use due to the fact that technology that is currently available for providing local telephone access is changing,” he said. “We may look at partnering with a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) at some time in the future, but that’s not currently part of our business plan.”

The survey asked residents if one company were able to provide improved local cable television and Internet services, would they be likely to purchase those services from one company? Seventy-five percent of respondents said yes.

“When I look at the survey results, I am struck by the large portion of people in the Truckee area that are looking for other cable TV and Internet services,” TDPUD General Manager Peter Holzmeister said. “I recognize that no single agency should provide those services. I think that there is room in Truckee for satellite dish, Truckee-Donner PUD and USA Media to all provide services to the Truckee market. I think choice is the important part.”

The district is still in the process of evaluating the possibility of entering into the telecommunications business, and while no decision has been made yet, the board was expected at last night’s board meeting to approve the telecommunications business plan and accept the Expanded Services Survey.

The district must have Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo.) approval before they can enter into the telecommunications business and enact that latent power.

Board member Jim Maass said after viewing the survey results, he is ready to move forward to begin the LAFCo. process.

“The overall perspective of the survey confirms in my mind where this community is coming from. They want choice, they want quality of services, they want good prices and, in essence, they want good competition,” Maass said. “I feel very comfortable as a director proceeding with this project based on this survey.”

The study also included the results from in-depth interviews with part-time Truckee residents. Of 15 individuals interviewed, 12 reside in the Bay Area, two in Sacramento and one in Reno. They indicated they came to Truckee for weekend escapes, recreational opportunities. Most either owned or were influential in their businesses, results showed.

According to SMR’s findings, satisfaction with their current cable TV company price and value was low; their Internet use while in Truckee was low and the performance adequate. The part-time residents surveyed also indicated a better ISP would not foster more visits or longer stays in Truckee; however, they encouraged the Truckee-Donner PUD to enter the market because competition is positive.


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