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DMEA board differs on Internet plan

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The directors of Delta-Montrose Electric Association are trying to work through differences about whether or how to move forward with a third study of a fiber optic network project often referred to as "broadband."

Discussion of the matter was prompted by a proposal at the board's Aug. 25 meeting for the third study of the co-op's Internet broadband idea, a study projected to cost $60,000. Action on the proposal was deferred, but not until after some board differences were aired.

Director Marshall Collins objected to two of the meeting's agenda items: one for "broadband recommendations" and another for "possible broadband action." Collins said he had understood DMEA would take no further action on broadband at the present time. The board's consensus at a three-hour-plus strategic session Aug. 17 was to "wait and see what happens" after DMEA completes its own in-house fiber optic data network, Collins explained. Collins hadn't expected to see the two items on the agenda for possible action.

Board member and Internet broadband advocate John Gavan said there was "some feeling on the board" that the Internet broadband initiative should continue and that "we shouldn't shut the door." Earlier in the meeting Gavan had described the proposed study as "one possible way forward" on the issue.

The proposed study would be a $60,000 effort by consultants to describe the planning process necessary for DMEA to set up an Internet broadband "pilot project," according to discussion at the meeting.

Board president Bill Patterson explained that by placing the items on the agenda he was "looking for more information."

Collins said, "That's information versus spending $60,000." He added that the board is "pushing (the issue) down the road toward a decision" to commit.

Gavan called the study "due diligence."

Board member Jim Elder pointed out, "We don't even have a plan yet to perfect our easements." The reference was to the requirement that DMEA pay for permission from landowners to use utility easements for a commercial enterprise -- i.e., Internet broadband. "We can't really move for two years," Elder said. "We're pushing this."

Collins said the board "is not walking away" from the Internet broadband idea by doing what was discussed at the strategic session. "Wait and see," he said.

"I'm not asking for any action myself," Patterson said. "I wanted to get information to make a future decision."

Collins noted that the two broadband agenda items hadn't been part of the strategic session discussion. He said the board needs to step back.

Director Kyle Martinez said the board is not sending a clear message on the issue. A decision of some kind would help DMEA staff who "want to know what to do."

Director Mark Eckhart said the board "needs to talk more" about the issue adding, "Now is not the time."

DMEA CEO Jasen Bronec agreed with Eckhart. He reminded directors that "a lot of resources" have been required for the FERC application issue. Staff has also been dealing with the Internet broadband issue. "It will take outside resources," i.e., money, to continue moving forward on Internet broadband issues, he said. "We need a decision from the board before budget."

Director Tony Prendergast said, "It takes resources to move forward, even conceptually. We need to keep a little momentum going." As far as what resources are needed, "$60,000 for an additional study is not inappropriate," he said. Prendergast suggested a proposal on the study be placed on the directors' agenda for Sept. 29.

Eckhart explained his view that DMEA's interest in the Internet broadband idea "is a good thing" insofar it shows private Internet service providers in the area that the community is serious about getting better Internet access.

A business cases study of Internet broadband was completed in June for the DMEA board. The study estimated 100 percent build-out cost for the proposed FTTP project at $94 million over seven to 10 years.

Board president Patterson observed, "It would take all of our assets to follow the business plan. We could only do broadband."

The term being used by DMEA for its Internet broadband concept, "FTTP," stands for "fiber to the premises." It refers to an economic development proposal that DMEA make fiber optic cable-sourced fast Internet access available to each of the approximately 30,000 locations where DMEA electric meters are installed.

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