Confusion and confidence among telecom consortium
SUMMIT COUNTY – Anyone who’s tried to examine a phone or cable bill or tried to connect a complete entertainment center in the living room knows telecommunications is complex stuff.That doesn’t change at all, however, for most public officials charged with negotiating on behalf of Summit County with cable and phone companies.The Summit County Telecommunications Consortium is a collection of the county commissioners, town mayors and managers and council members. They are responsible for questioning AT&T on rate hikes and making sure Qwest is offering locals the best options available, is also hoping to bring Summit County into the 21st century of high-speed Internet access.Last year, the consortium awarded a contract to Peak Speed Communications, a Breckenridge company related to Netbeam. Both were founded by the same family, run out of the same Breckenridge offices and essentially offer the same products. The consortium’s contract with Peak Speed is funded by state grant money – known as the Beanpole Project – and, in the end, will connect Summit County to the state’s Multiuse Network, a high-speed fiber optic backbone.Consortium officials originally considered a Netbeam bid for the project. However, Netbeam filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Netbeam’s successor, Peak Speed, bid for the project and, after a financial audit and investigation by county attorneys, consortium officials felt comfortable with awarding the contract to Peak Speed.”When (Peak Speed) entered into the bidding process, it was clearly identified to the SCTC group the problems Netbeam had historically,” said Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen. “We did our due diligence, we liked the technology, but we questioned whether they had the resources or the reliability. Eventually, we got comfortable. They provided financials, and they passed muster with an auditor.”Other officials said they relied heavily on technical experts or the consortium’s chairman. County Commissioner Bill Wallace said he followed information technology staff members’ recommendations.”The whole project is mind-boggling,” Wallace said. “The technical side – forget it. My concern was we want people to get high-speed access, so we left it to the people who know what that means to do the work and do the background.”Information technology supervisors at the towns and county offices provided their expertise to the consortium.So did consortium chairman Bernie Zurbriggen, who also represented the town of Frisco in the group. Zurbriggen, a telecommunications business owner and consultant, is a former investor and corporate director for Netbeam.Zurbriggen said his relationship with Netbeam ended in May 2001 and that his vote on awarding Peak Speed the Beanpole contract in 2002 was not a conflict.Frisco Mayor Bob Moscatelli said he relies on Zurbriggen’s expertise.”When Bernie talks, we listen,” Moscatelli said. “What he says is worthy of positive consideration. I don’t mind telling you my eyes glaze over when we start talking about these technical things.”Dillon Town Manager Jack Benson said the intent of the program was not to bail out Netbeam, but if that’s a positive consequence and the county gets up to speed in the technology center (thus improving Summit’s ability to attract more businesses), everybody wins.”It’s an idealistic goal, and we all have concerns,” Benson said. “This was done through what I think was a fair process, and I think Summit County’s going to be a lot better off.”—Who’s Who- Greg Friedman-Founding director of Netbeam Inc.- Founding director of Peak Speed Communications- Awarded county contract to install high-speed Internet infrastructure- Judith A. Mercer-Friedman- Founding director of Netbeam Inc.- Officer of Peak Speed Communications- Royal Daniel III-Breckenridge attorney-Incorporating attorney for Netbeam Inc.- Incorporating attorney for Peak Speed Communications- Trustee in contract between Peak Speed and Summit County- Bernie Zurbriggen- Telecommunications consultant- Frisco Town Council member- Chairman of the Summit County Telecommunications Consortium- Former investor and director of Netbeam Inc.- Summit County Telecommunications Consortium- With seven voting members, a collection of county and town officials charged with negotiating cable and phone rates on behalf of the county.
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