Friday, August 25, 2006

County supe Santiago reports on 8/21 meeting with AT&T

Here’s a news release issued Thursday evening by El Dorado County Fifth District Supervisor Norma Santiago reporting on a meeting she had earlier this week with AT&T regarding expanding DSL service in the Tahoe Basin. Motivating Santiago’s meeting with Ma Bell is an ongoing petition drive being run by South Lake Tahoe’s Patti Handal, who Santiago reports has collected nearly 500 signatures from 215 households imploring AT&T to expand DSL to those still stuck with sluggish circa 1993 dial up Internet access.

I applaud Santiago for her interest in this vital infrastructure issue for El Dorado County and urge her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to share in her well-placed concerns since the county’s telecommunications problems are by no means limited to South Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately, it appears AT&T is continuing the same song and dance that it has for years on the county’s West Slope — which like Tahoe suffers from a creaky old copper cable system running out of good pair that barely provides adequate voice service and features massive broadband black holes.

Since the copper cable plant’s so dilapidated it can barely support voice and certainly won’t support more sensitive DSL signals, the reality is AT&T is looking at having to replace much of its aged infrastructure with fiber optic cable in order to ensure reliability of voice service and to offer advanced services such as broadband Internet access and potentially IPTV (Internet Protocol Television). That’s a big expenditure that probably won’t get past the bean counters in San Antonio anytime soon, particularly as AT&T absorbs the costs of its mergers in the past year with SBC Communications and Bellsouth. So not surprisingly, AT&T is telling Santiago what we’ve heard before on the West Slope from company representatives: We’ll look into it and see if it’s in the budget and get back to you. I call it the San Antonio (where AT&T is headquartered) shuffle.

Given the circumstances, Santiago and Handal are wise to court alternative providers including the cable company that serves the Tahoe Basin, Charter Communications — over which the county has direct influence since it grants franchises to cable companies — and to continue to gather signatures from residents and business owners to make the case to these providers that there’s plenty of market demand. The cable providers such as Charter and Comcast on the West Slope have a real opportunity to lock down market share as Ma Bell naps while digesting her recent acquisitions. They can offer a triple threat of high speed Internet, television programming and digital voice all over the same wire line connection in a bundled deal. Comcast has said it plans to begin rolling out digital voice service in Northern California early next year. Verizon, which is committed to abandoning obsolete copper cable in favor of fiber optic, has the right idea. Santiago and Handal should also be talking to Verizon about expanding beyond cellular service in El Dorado County and installing fiber-based landline services while AT&T sleeps in San Antonio.

The full news release issued by Supervisor Santiago along with contact information for Handal’s Tahoe Basin petition drive:

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For information, contact

Supervisor Norma Santiago, (530) 409-9615

On Monday, August 21st, El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago held a meeting with AT&T representatives to further discuss prospects of obtaining high speed internet service throughout various areas within district five of El Dorado County. Santiago indicated that the discussions were very positive thanks in large part to a DSL Campaign headed by Mountain View Estates resident and veterinarian, Patti Handal. Handal had successfully collected nearly 500 signatures representing 215 households throughout South Lake Tahoe. “In my previous discussions with AT&T, I strongly expressed that there was a great interest for DSL not only for the public benefit but also as a tool for economic development. Now, thanks to Patti, I was able to provide the evidence,” Santiago said. Regarding the ongoing success of the DLS campaign and its implications, Handal states, “High speed internet access is no longer a luxury but part of everyday life in today's world. Through the campaign it has become very apparent how the availability of DSL would enhance the quality of so many people's lives and provide economic opportunities for our town.”

So what are the next steps? Specific information requested by AT&T (addresses and telephone numbers) from the petitions and e-mails received will be compiled and given to AT&T so that company representatives may begin a planning and cost analysis for AT&T construction budget submission. Budget decisions will be made early next year; however, even if the proposal was successful, residents would not be notified until 30 days prior to the actual completion of the project. This is due to a FCC regulation that prohibits announcing upcoming upgrades or changes provided by the utility that may create an unfair competitive advantage. In spite of this, Santiago remains confident indicating that she still sees DSL coming to the region within the next 18 to 24 months. Santiago further states that she is taking other steps to make this market attractive not only to AT&T but also to other potential carriers including Charter Communications. Discussions with Charter Communications are currently being arranged. In the meantime, Handal strongly encourages that proponents of DSL continue to send in their petitions. “The more households we have on record, the stronger our argument,” Santiago said.

Requests for petitions can be made by phone at: 530-314-9127 or by email at: BrutHilda@aol.com. Petitions can be returned by mail to: DSL Campaign; P.O. Box 17087; South Lake Tahoe, CA 96151. Or they can be faxed to: 530-577-2817.

1 comment:

Jeff at Tahoe said...

Thanks to Norma, Patty and Fred for prodding AT&T and Charter to provide high speed internet in El Dorado County and South Lake Tahoe. My comment is that whatever muscle power we have to influence these huge corporate conglomerates may be restricted to the legal arguement that they have been granted exclusive and monopolistic rights to "service" or rather harvest the profits from an area such as South Lake Tahoe and that they should not be allowed to only pick the low hanging fruit, but, for their over-all profits, without competition, should serve all the areas, even the more difficult or expensive areas, if they want the profits from the entire area. Otherwise, what incentive do they have to spend the dollars on the small areas when they are making good money on the easy areas? It should be all or nothing. As I understand it, El Dorado County grants franchises to Charter and approves AT&T as the service provider in their region. El Dorado County could just as easily give the business to someone else who would provide full service. Put the competition back into utility service.

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