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Questioning broadband

Let me begin this commentary by stating that I feel resentful that this matter continues to be shrouded in vagueness and deception. I resent feeling worried that in the end, if this thing goes through, as a ratepayer and owner of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, as we all are, I might be liable for a large debt if it fails.

I resent having to spend my time raising the questions and concerns that are never clearly answered. I worry that this proposed project has been one that has been emotionally desired by the district’s manager, Ron Hemig, the district’s board president, and former board member Jim Maas. As a result, it has not been thoroughly and neutrally investigated, taking into account all the pros and cons. I have noticed at PUD meetings that actual data presented by audience members has been immediately and sometimes even rudely dismissed. This has not been an open dialogue and thus feeds my deep concerns of a lack of objectivity.

Mr. Hemig’s Guest Column in last week’s paper (“Why PUD broadband?Let’s count the reasons”) was yet another example to feed my growing fears that the PUD is intent on moving forward on this project with less than a thoroughly investigated and detailed plan. The column once again offers not even one piece of data to support the efficacy of the plan. Mr. Hemig, early in his column, states that he wants to put forward a thorough understanding of the plan. The column then proceeds to weave a story rather than put forward facts.



Later he states that the PUD is prohibited from using water and electric revenues to subsidize broadband. However, it is my understanding (hopefully accurate) that the “well over” $2 million already spent on this project did come from moneys in the PUD bank account, which obviously would come from water and electric revenues.

He states that the board must act prudently and that even then the decision may turn out poorly. He puts forth the idea of an exit strategy that would essentially hold harmless the ratepayers. Again nothing specific. And, these statements do invoke concern.



Finally, he quotes the city manager of Mesquite, Nevada (where in the hell is Mesquite?) regarding the need to really join the communication age.

What is of alarming concern is not whether broadband is as good idea for our community or not. It is the manner in which we, the rate payers, have been treated. It’s this sense of, “We the PUD just want this, so go along with it and don’t ask questions.”

We have never been given factual data. We have never seen the results of “scientific” research from similar communities across the country that have attempted this. We have never seen actual cost and recoup figures. Mr. Hemig did state that if 40 percent of the ratepayers sign up in the first 10 years the project will pay for itself. What does that mean? Does that include loan payback as well as break even? Is there any data indicating that 40 percent will subscribe?

Again, we are left in the dark. Indebting ourselves as rate payers for $25 million or $30 million is something to be taken very seriously. Has there ever been an “independent” outside agency contracted to scientifically and neutrally ferret out the facts? Have the rate payers been fully polled regarding their feelings about this venture?

If and when we are presented full disclosure and well-documented data the result should be obvious. At least one thing that has kept this issue unresolved is the lack of that over these last years there has also been an ongoing and emotional battle between the PUD and Cebridge, our cable provider. And that is yet another story.

As one ratepayer, I already have DSL, high speed Internet, right here in Truckee. I have a satellite TV receptor. Wireless technology appears to be rapidly advancing. Will fiber-optic cable (broadband) be obsolete in the near future? I imagine that all this and more data is available. We know how costly it is to dig in our very rocky soil. Tahoe Donner finally realized the cost of doing so and decided against underground utilities. Southwest Gas can attest to the costs they incurred to bring us natural gas.

The PUD board is divided regarding the broadband idea. Mr. Hemig is the major proponent of it along with the PUD manager. I need to be convinced of the efficacy of this project by scientific research and by accurate figures not by eloquent rhetoric.

This project is just too costly and there are too many unknowns for it to go ahead at this time. Given what I have seen and heard I just don’t trust that the PUD and board (at least some members thereof) have our best interest at heart. This matter needs to be put to rest finally. The only way that I can see to do that is to put out some more bucks to have it thoroughly and completely evaluated by a professional independent consultant.

Rolf Godon lives in Truckee.


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