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USA Media adds to suit against PUD

ABHUTCHISON

USA Media filed another suit against the Truckee-Donner Public Utility District late last week, alleging that the district is delaying the cable company’s installation of fiber-optic upgrades and engaging in other anti-competitive acts.

USA Media’s new antitrust allegations contend that the PUD has abused its power over utility poles in order to both interfere with USA Media and to create an unfair competitive advantage for the district as it proceeds with announced plans to build its own fiber business in the Truckee area.

The Truckee-Donner PUD currently has a federal court-ordered restraining order against USA Media, requiring the cable company to have construction plans approved by the district before they can attach fiber-optic cable. The district said the pole attachment agreement between the two organizations stipulates project applications must be submitted and approved before the district can attach material to its poles.

According to district staff, USA Media has submitted a total of 20 applications, to cover attachments on 650 poles. While a couple of applications have been sent back due to an absence of information about the number of poles included in plans, the district has approved four applications thus far.

In a press release issued on Feb. 15 by USA Media Regional Manager Roger Terneuzen, USA Media contends that the PUD has intentionally delayed their project plans, which has created an unfair competitive advantage for the district as it proceeds with its telecommunications business plan.

“The Truckee-Donner PUD has successfully delayed our maintenance and expansion projects since May of last year,” Terneuzen said in the release. “Everyone on my staff – and our attorneys -have been doing everything possible to meet the unreasonable demands of the PUD -at tremendous cost. Frankly, I’m at my wits’ end and the PUD’s obstruction has convinced me that I must bring its conduct to the attention of the courts.”

The claim was filed in federal court in Sacramento on Friday, Feb. 11.

Alan Harry, director of telecommunications for the district, said that PUD hasn’t tried to delay USA Media’s expansion project. Before the PUD announced its plans to potentially offer telecommu

nications services, the district had been involved with negotiations with USA Media to lease dark fiber. Harry said that USA Media began to construct their own fiber on the district’s poles without notifying the district negotiations were off.

“The press release has twisted the truth and is full of inaccurate statements,” Harry said. “It’s my understanding that on Feb. 11, USA submitted an amendment to their original complaint.”

The TDPUD filed suit in November in an attempt to file a restraining order against USA Media to halt its placement of fiber-optic cable on the district’s utility poles until applications were submitted. At about the same time, USA Media filed suit claiming it has rights under the Federal Pole Attachment Act to to attach wires to the district’s utility poles and that the PUD breached the pole attachment agreement between the two organizations. The PUD then filed suit, asking USA Media’s case be dismissed, claiming a public utilities don’t fall under this act.

Terneuzen claimed in the press release that pole applications were only required by the PUD for new initial attachments to utility poles before the district announced plans to enter into the telecommunications business.

“However, since deciding to build its own fiber network, the PUD now requires exhaustive applications for almost any work on existing facilities or even to overlash fiber to existing cable plant,” Terneuzen said. “USA Media has complied with the PUD application process and has submitted volumes of paperwork for more than 600 utility poles. The PUD has only approved four applications and is requiring USA Media to physically move nearly all of their existing attachments to other locations on the poles – at tremendous financial costs and timetables that would take years to complete rather than months.”

The PUD said applications for new projects are required to ensure the safety of district customers and for the strength of district poles. According to previous comments by TDPUD General Manager Peter Holzmeister, the addition of cable to poles can often stress existing utility poles and provide a place for snow and ice build-up.

“[Terneuzen’s] claim that we are holding him up is not true,” Harry said.

Harry said he doesn’t believe the district has ever had to approve a project of this magnitude, that usually cable companies submit applications for minor projects.

“Within the cable industry, when you are attaching to this many poles, you are either attaching a new system or making a significant upgrade to an existing system,” Harry said.

Furthermore, Harry said, the district hired a consultant to help oversee the application approval process and relieve the extra work load the extra volume of applications have been causing.

Terneuzen said USA Media has proven that there are no legitimate safety concerns and yet the PUD continues to place layers of conditions on its applications.

“We have tried to find amicable solutions,” Terneuzen said, “but the PUD has repeatedly snubbed our efforts.”


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