Zurbriggen responds to Internet access issues
Editor’s note: The following is a response from Summit County Telecommunication Consortium president Bernie Zurbriggen, also a Frisco Town Council member, about how Peak Speed was selected for a $456,000 publicly funded grant to create high-speed Internet access.Unfortunately, I must express my disappointment with the demeanor and manner in which the Summit Daily News reported on the Summit County Telecommunications Consortium (SCTC) Beanpole Project in the article and editorial that appeared on May 21 and 22, respectively.These articles had the effect, and I would suggest even the direct intention, of discrediting a project that scores of people in our community have worked thousands of hours on over the past four years and that provides such great promise to the economic diversity and well being of our community’s future.While I, and the SCTC, encourage all members of the public to learn the details of the Beanpole Project, and furthermore wholeheartedly welcome public discourse regarding the benefits and concerns of such a significant project, I would expect that the reporting on a matter of such importance would be executed with much less bias and a far greater degree of diligence.This is of particular concern when such an article actually assails the level of diligence exercised by the SCTC in contracting for this project.The reporter of the initial article, and, in turn, the drafter of the editorial following up on this piece, decided to leap forward without thoroughly examining the material details of this project and the selection of Peak Speed Communications.My one comment about the delays caused by the need for planning commission approvals was an off-the-cuff response on my part, when called by the reporter just a few minutes before I needed to attend a council meeting.I offered to call back later but was told they were on deadline for the story the next day and had to have my answers right now. Unfortunately, a reporting deadline appears to have trumped the focus on details in investigating this matter.This further begs the question of why, if my personal involvement in this project was such a material concern in the Daily’s article, was I not contacted until so late in the investigative process?Beanpole Project backgroundAnyone who has been involved in this grant process or has taken the time to delve into the background of the project knows that the objective of the Beanpole Grant, made possible by state legislation in 1999, is to use government as an anchor tenant in the use of advanced telecommunications services, so that infrastructure is created that will make these advanced services available to all businesses and residents within our community.The strategy, developed through a series of community outreach meetings and dozens of planning meetings over the past four years, is to stimulate demand as well as supply for advanced services. The short version of this is that we want as many competitors as possible, offering as many different technologies as possible at the lowest rates to satisfy the needs of the community.The rationale is that by stimulating investment in such technology by means of government demand for services, the breadth and level of competition and services available to the private sector will be likewise expanded.We are on track to accomplish this. By the end of this year we will have the following services available:n Wireless service from Peak Speed Communications up to 60 Mbps.n Cable modem service from Comcast up to 30 Mbps. (Potential speed based on laboratory demonstrations of the latest cable modem capabilities. Initial speeds will likely be in the 2 to 3 Mbps area.)n DSL and wireless services from Colorado.net/Vail.net at speeds up to 10 Mbps (this is according to a recent communication from them about plans they have to upgrade their infrastructure).n Traditional wire and fiber services from Qwest (generally very expensive and subject to its discretion to provide).n Satellite Services from Hughes Affiliates at speeds of 3 or more Mbps. This service currently has the disadvantage of noticeable latency.Once this is completed, our capabilities will be comparable to those available in downtown Denver or the Denver Tech Center. Having these capabilities is crucial to economic development and economic diversity in our community. Our efforts are resulting in a rewarding and successful outcome.Peak Speed CommunicationsThese are the actual details, which the Summit Daily failed to review in its articles, behind the selection of Peak Speed Communicationsn The release of the RFP (request for proposal) in August of 2001 and the receipt of the subsequent bids was handled by the SCTC Beanpole subcommittee, with occasional reports to the SCTC board. My only involvement was to attend the vendor conference in September 2001 to provide background information.n In June 2002, a meeting with representatives of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs as well as the Colorado Rural Development Council revealed that if we did not proceed with implementation of our grant, there was a strong likelihood that the grant would be withdrawn.n At the July, 2002, SCTC meeting, the following alternatives were presented to the board:- Do nothing and lose the grant.- Reject all bids and release the RFP again.- Ask the viable bidders to update their proposals and present them to the board at the next meeting.The latter alternative was selected by the board, and the updates and presentations took place at the next SCTC board meeting, on Aug. 9, 2002.n It is worth noting that SCTC membership is made up of the four towns and the county; CMC and the Summit School District are simply in-kind members, meaning they provide resources but do not pay dues or assessments. We also invite all entities to attend these meetings, and many of them do. Part of my brief conversation with the reporter had to do with this multitiered makeup of the SCTC membership. The reporter completely ignored this information and printed presumptive and irrelevant information about attendance at the Aug. 9, 2002 meeting.n At the Aug. 9 meeting, the county and all towns were represented except for Dillon, whose town management was in transition at that time.n After the presentations were made, I asked each of the participants to share their comments, which were recorded and are as follows:- We will be getting more bandwidth for the same overall costs.- A wireless solution will more easily allow us to expand coverage to those areas of the county that initially fell outside the scope of the project (e.g., Blue River, Montezuma, Heeney – really all along the northern part of the county).- Greater potential for high-speed capabilities for that “last mile” to the house, at a reasonable cost, without the distance limitations of comparable land- based solutions, like DSL (making the assumption that this and subsequent expansion projects – like going to Park County – will increase overall coverage).- The Qwest system is in place, and no new upgrades would be added to the county. We would just be buying services.- The Peak Speed proposal would add a wireless network to the existing infrastructure.-The Peak Speed bid is the low bid, and its proposed components exceed the requirements of the RFP.- The backbone of the Peak Speed infrastructure was of greater capacity.- A wireless system would serve better in Summit County with its geographical constraints and distances – a better long-range solution.- The Peak Speed proposal is lower in price with some reason to believe the lower pricing will continue after the initial two-year period. Expanded availability to all citizens and businesses.- Peak Speed is a local bidder, with the low-cost bid. Keeps money in county and adds employees.None of these comments were made by myself.In light of these considerations, the SCTC opted to take the chance with the reformulated bid by Peak Speed, a company admittedly related to Netbeam but still legally standing on its own and not directly involved in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.Such a decision was made with the proviso we would only proceed if we could negotiate a contract that would adequately protect us from any negative consequences of the relationship between Netbeam and Peak Speed and any financial instability of eithercompany.The consensus of the group was to pursue legal and financial review and negotiate with Peak Speed Communication to provide the services, and it was the decision of the board that Byron Rice, Dan Teodoro and myself act as the negotiating committee.One of the biggest challenges has been doing all this in the midst of an economic downturn that has been particularly brutal to the telecommunications industry over the past few years.The largest ISP in the nation (@Home) filed bankruptcy and went out of business, leaving millions of subscribers without service. Worldcom, one of the largest worldwide fiberoptic network providers filed bankruptcy and went out of business. AT&T, which for decades was the nation’s telephone company, has been divided into many pieces and in some instances sold off to competitors.The standing and former executive board of Qwest is under criminal investigation for accounting scandals, and the company is in dire financial straits.Thus, it was not surprising we found ourselves contracting with a company that is the successor of a company that was forced into bankruptcy by national industry events.With the help of the county legal staff, the contract with Peak Speed Communications was very carefully crafted to provide safeguards in the event the contractor should default for any reason.The Daily apparently made no effort to discuss the details of the contract, more than 20 pages long, which was drafted with a focus on providing such protection. Nor did the reporter bother to discuss with any detail the fact that a CPA was retained by SCTC to help weigh the fiscal viability of thecompany.As to the limited waiver of damages for delays, the reality is that when the contract was negotiated, we were not sure about all the antenna locations required, or their required height.County code allows for antennas within certain parameters. Nobody realized until the conditional use permit process was well under way that a site plan would also be required for thisproject.We acknowledged in the contract the possibility that the contractor would not be penalized if delayed by government approvals for the antennas.For that reason, and to ensure the timely commencement of this project, the SCTC agreed to temporarily refrain from pursuing liquidated damages under the contract. This is not in any manner an uncommon contractual practice, as damages for any delays are always a difficult legal issue.Response to issues raised regarding my personalinvolvement with this projectAs for the Daily’s assertions I have a personal interest in the success of Peak Speed or that I violated the town of Frisco code of ethics, following are the actual facts, glossed over by the reporter:n The newspaper article suggested I have been charged with administering this contract. This is not true. Summit County is the fiscal agent for the grant, and the SCTC board is responsible for the administration. To the best of my knowledge, the project is being administered and funded in accordance with the terms of the contract.n The Beanpole Project has always been managed by a subcommittee of SCTC, composed mostly of information technology professionals from the county and the towns.n In December 2000, after receiving the Beanpole Implementation Grant, I stopped participating in this subcommittee, because I was an investor, director and consultant to Netbeam, a potential bidder on the project.n In May 2001, I resigned as a director and ceased further work for Netbeam. My 2001 tax return reflects the total loss of the investment that I had made in Netbeam.n At every SCTC meeting pertaining to this project, I disclosed my past involvement with Netbeam. I deliberately refrained from advocating any course of action due to my prior involvement. As the president of the consortium, I facilitated the meeting on Aug. 9, 2002. A formal vote was not taken on a course of action. SCTC has never adhered to strict Robert’s Rules, as everything we do is by total consensus.n The consensus was to pursue legal and financial review and negotiate with Peak Speed Communication to provide the services, and it was the decision of the board that county staffers Byron Rice, Dan Teodoro and myself act as the negotiating committee.n I consulted with the Frisco town attorney, who advised that since the decision was to pursue a contract with Peak Speed, and since I do not or have not ever had any relationship with Peak Speed, I did not and do not have a conflict of interest.From a practical standpoint, I have nothing to gain personally from any of this but the satisfaction of having played a role in securing the very best possible telecommunications capabilities at the lowest possible rates for the citizens and businesses of Summit County.In response to a subsequent letter to the editor in which my qualifications were questioned, my career in telecommunications started in 1966. My experience includes officer, director and general management positions with companies such as Northern Telecom (currently known as Nortel), Contel Executone (now part of GTE) and my own company, U.S. Trans Comm, which just last year completed a 14-month project for Community Colleges of Colorado.Our goal in this effort was to provide elected officials in rural communities around Colorado with the necessary knowledge of both technology, as well as the policies that affect it’s deployment, so that they would be better equipped to make decisions about telecom issues in their communities. The rest of the comments are irrelevant, as they are based on presumptions from an individual not acquainted with the contract that he is criticizing.I have been serving my community faithfully in numerous capacities for nearly 15 years. If the drafters of such letters or the Summit Daily editorial staff have expertise in this area, I would invite them to share that expertise for the good of the community.Another letter to the editor queries, “It would be interesting to know why SCTC: 1) Selected Peak Speed instead of Qwest (see SCTC board members’ comments above); and 2) Could not wait forColorado.net/Vail.net to submit a proposal. Colorado.net/Vail.net (including John Uhley) was invited to participate in the first planning meetings, and representative Scott Martin attended Jan. 6, 2000, Feb. 10, 2000, and Feb. 28, 2000.At the conclusion of the Feb. 28 meeting, Scott commented to me words to the effect that there is nothing here for us and this is a waste of our time.In addition, Uhley was contacted by the consultant during our planning process for input on existing infrastructure issues. There were numerous articles published about the project over the past three and a half years. Just how long should the community wait for Colorado.net to develop an interest?Here are some questions that come to my mind:n Why did Colorado.net not take an interest and play an active role in this whole process?n Why would our daily newspaper adopt such an aggressive and misinformed posture without investigating all aspects of the issues at hand? An even better question is why reporters have not been attending SCTC meetings, which have always been open to the public?You can draw your own conclusions, but the logical answers to these questions cause me some very serious concerns.Nonetheless, in moving beyond this unfortunate turn of events, I look forward to the point at which the entire county can reap the benefits of the enhanced telecommunications capabilities that will result from the efforts of the SCTC over the past several years.
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