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Truckee-Donner Public Utility District telecom plans under review at county agency

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Will the Truckee-Donner Public Utility District be allowed to offer its customers telecommunications services?

For more than a year now, the district has been moving forward with plans to offer high-speed Internet access and cable services to Truckee residents. The business plans are now at the Nevada County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), the governing agency which must grant the PUD the latent power to enter into the telecommunications business, and it may be months until the items are voted on by LAFCo commissioners, according to TDPUD staff.

At the July 5 meeting, PUD board members unanimously approved spending $10,000 for further review of the district’s business plan by LAFCo’s special counsel.

District staff and some board members also expressed frustration with the amount of time LAFCo is taking in the review process at the meeting.

“It’s a little frustrating in that this process is so long and dragged out at LAFCo,” TDPUD General Manager Peter Holzmeister said, adding the district submitted a solid and thorough plan to LAFCo months ago.

LAFCo’s Executive Director SR Jones explained the agency is trying to be thorough in its review.

“It is an unusual service for us to review because telecommunications is not something we have experience with reviewing,” Jones said, in a phone interview. Nevada County LAFCo has retained an attorney who specializes in telecommunications to help review the PUD’s application, she said.

“We’re trying to make sure we get a real specific level of information so my commissioners and staff review a complete package,” she said. “We’re dealing with the original proposal plus additions the PUD has made.”

LAFCo commissioners could make a decision on the issue at its September meeting, she said.

Jones wrote a letter to Holzmeister on June 30 which included a list of issues the district must address before the commission can consider the district’s proposal. The issues mentioned in the letter included the following questions:

-Does the district have the legal authority to provide the new service?

-Does the district need a franchise from the Town to provide cable television?

-What impact will the proposal have on maintaining and promoting open competition for telecommunications and cable TV services?

-How can the proposal be conditioned to ensure adequate segregation of financial activities of each separate utility or service?

– Is the district’s finance plan (including cost and revenue projections) reasonable?

Holzmeister said the district is in the process of responding to the issues LAFCo has listed, but did find some of the issues inappropriate, citing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed by U.S. Congress, a move which deregulated telecommunications.

“The LAFCo staff has never dealt with the telecommunications issue before. I think they are on a learning curve, which I understand,” Holzmeister said. He said he believes LAFCo’s role is to look at the formation of governmental agencies and their impact on urban sprawl, open space and agricultural lands.

“My frustration is LAFCo is beyond what it should be concerned with. Some of the issues are getting into a realm that Congress has already addressed … Congress has already made a decision on this and I don’t think policy should be different in Nevada County,” Holzmeister said.

Jones said LAFCo needs to look at certain policy issues such as how to ensure open competition is enhanced with the PUD providing telecommunications services.

Some members of the public who were at the July 5 meeting expressed interest in attending the next LAFCo meeting to speak in favor of TDPUD’s proposal to offer telecommunications.


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