Utility district to begin another broadband survey | SierraSun.com

Utility district to begin another broadband survey

Telephone surveys regarding the Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s broadband proposal will start this month in Truckee.

The random telephone survey that will reach 400 of the utility district’s water and electricity customers will ask questions about satisfaction with current cable, Internet and telephone services, and will also question the willingness or likelihood that people will change service providers if the utility district promises improved services at comparable prices.

The results of the survey will determine whether the utility district will move forward with building the broadband infrastructure.

“Our business plan tells us that if we get about 40 percent of the community interested and willing to sign up, this will work,” said General Manager Peter Holzmeister. “It doesn’t even have to be half.”

Two previous broadband surveys were conducted in 2000 and 2003, but because the project has experienced multiple delays, board members said they felt it necessary to gather new data.

Technology and costs have also been fluctuating since then, said utility district Telecommunications Director Alan Harry.

“We are still looking at fiber to the home and the same type of electronics,” Harry said. “The service provider might not be the same as the one we were thinking of before because I might be able to get a better service at a lower cost. The price for the fiber and the electronics have also come down.”

But even with the possible decrease in cost, some board members are skeptical that moving forward with broadband is a smart move.

“It was a great idea five years ago, but with the alternative systems available to us now and with the price tag, I just don’t think it’s realistic,” said director Bill Thomason.

“I can’t see any way that this survey is going to come back positive. That’s my opinion, but it’s based on all the people I have talked to in town,” he said. “If it comes back positive, I am going to have a lot of questions.”

There is no set price tag on the project right now, but estimates are running somewhere between $25 million and $35 million according to utility district board members and staff.

“The plan is still to have the users of this new service pay for the system itself, as we have said all along,” Harry said. “The electric and water rate payers will not be responsible for the cost of construction. It will be a stand alone business as required by state law.”

To fund the up-front costs, the utility district is planning to issue bonds to interested investors, Holzmeister said. If it turned out that there were not enough users after the system was installed, then bond holders would carry the risk because they could not seek reimbursement from water and electric revenues.

“Why would any person who does not want to subscribe to this hold it back from the rest of the community, knowing that (the rate payers) will not be injured?” Holzmeister said.

It’s possible that customers will say no simply because there is no longer a need, or because a failed system could reflect poorly on the district’s fiscal responsibility.

“I just don’t think it’s realistic,” said Thomason. “They are going to sell bonds? Find me the guy that says ‘yes’ to that risk. You don’t see Bill Gates throwing around 30 million (dollars). Is this responsible?”

The district is still waiting to learn the verdict of an appeal set for by Sudden Link Communications, formerly Cebridge, that questions the rights of a public utility district to provide cable service to its customers. If possible, the district is planning to move forward with their proposal anyway, Harry said.

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