Calif. district goes broadband

Truckee Donner Public Utility District

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Town of Truckee

The Truckee Donner Public Utility District will break ground this summer for a high-speed telecommunications network providing video, voice, data and security services to residents, businesses and first responders in the California ski resort community.

It might be the first U.S. community of its size to provide the four services using IP, according to those involved in the project. It might also signal a trend of more communities, impatient with private companies promising to develop such networks, taking on the responsibility themselves.

The public utility district, a separate entity from the town government, has been providing electricity for more than 75 years, and water service since the 1950s. Officials decided to provide broadband service after residents complained that the incumbent private telephone and cable providers were only promising such service, said Alan Harry, the district's telecommunications director.

Officials expect the project will cost $15 million to $17 million and take 18 months to complete. Not only will residents and businesses get broadband service, but government employees and police, fire and other emergency officials are working with the district to develop a private institutional network that will basically sit on top of the fiber network.

Police will use that private network not only to communicate with other agencies, but also with first responders in the field, Harry said.

"We're going to be building an approximately 40-mile ring within our community, and then a distribution system that will cover 165 miles, reaching approximately 10,000 and 2,000 small, medium and large business," he said. The district will buy wholesale video and data services from Eagle Broadband Inc., a Texas-based telecommunications company, and resell them. The company will sell security and voice services over the network. And town officials, working with the local chamber of commerce, will form a new economic development committee to explore how the network could attract industries beyond tourism.

Truckee, located 90 miles east of Sacramento and 80 miles west of Reno, Nev., has a year-round population of 15,000 that swells to 50,000 on major holidays. Harry said many seasonal residents with second homes in Truckee are from Silicon Valley, well educated, well to do and used to high-end telecommunications service.

Harry said incumbent providers "don't want us to be successful because the moment that you find a successful operation, there is the template to re-create it all over the country, thus increase the competition from what was, at one point in time, a monopoly."

Randy Shapiro, Eagle Broadband's vice president of marketing, said the irony is that those seasonal residents will see more advanced services in town than in Silicon Valley.

"But the other aspect of this is that in addition to Truckee, there are probably at least 100 other municipalities and public utility districts across the country that are in varying stages of doing a fiber broadband network build out," he said. "Not all have a full IP network, but it is a very significant trend that has picked up significantly in the last couple months."

Harry said the district would issue certificates of participation, which are like mini bonds. Several surveys indicated widespread support for use of the network, including a letter of intent from a local hospital. But he warned that any community wanting to undertake such a project should develop a solid business case first before diving in.

"We have always thought that once we pull the trigger, begin construction and then provide service to our first customer, we'll see this take off and have a tremendous domino effect across the country," Harry added.


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