This month we answer your questions about access to information.
First off, just because an institution has been around for thousands of years doesn’t mean it’s not relevant today. A hard-fought-for new library in Truckee is gaining momentum and recently the team behind the effort released renderings, exclusive to the Ink, that bring the dream that much closer to reality. It’s about way more than books.
Secondly, society relies increasingly on a stable internet connection, which can be difficult in our rural mountainous region. Suddenlink, which relies on cable access, has long been the go-to provider in the area, yet other private companies are now on the scene using a variety of technologies as the Truckee Donner Public Utility District explores fiber broadband possibilities.
Pro tip: Need help navigating the options? A local good Samaritan, who has turned into a sort of Sierra broadband guru, aims to provide a “canonical reference” for your questions. Find him at: tti.ourlaketahoe.com.
~ Becca Loux/Moonshine Ink
What’s the status of the Truckee library project?
After years of work, the vision for a new library has come to life! The proposed 20,000-square foot facility will provide the welcoming, inspiring space our community needs to gather and connect, to experience arts and culture programming, to engage in events and learn new skills, and to access resources and books.
The effort toward a new facility is gathering momentum. Progress over the last two years includes the Friends of the Truckee Library’s LibraryUP community engagement and awareness program, a confirmed site at Truckee Regional Park, strong collaborations between the Friends, Nevada County, and the Town of Truckee, and the LibraryUP Luminaries initiative to help with initial development costs.
Recently, the Friends, town, and county have begun discussions to determine the governing structure for the new space. The county is leading an RFP process to contract with a consultant to help the parties develop the structure to finance, manage, and maintain the facility. The proposed structure will welcome additional interested regional partners that want to contribute to, and participate in, the development of the space.
~ Kathleen Eagan, Friends of the Truckee Library Board Member
What reliable broadband options are available in the Tahoe/Truckee region?
There’s a range of performance in the different technologies, which are generally either copper, fiber, or wireless. When you look up a power pole, broadband is the top 8 feet of insulated lines. Most of them are older lines, such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Suddenlink, based on traditional copper technology, which has its pluses and minuses and performance is on the lower end.
Then there’s wireless using hotspots which is how Verizon Wireless, Oasis, and others deliver broadband to homes, done terrestrially with towers. Some of that wireless is LTE (lower performance) and some of it is true or ultra 5G (pioneered by Verizon) with cell towers that are very powerful.
And then you have Starlink, based on satellites. Starlink’s got some big claims about getting close to the ultra 5G numbers, but a lot of people question that. I’ve seen people in Tahoe Donner post on Nextdoor about being part of Starlink’s pilot program.
Finally, there’s fiber to the home or business, which has the highest performance, the highest potential performance, and the least negative impacts … but it’s also the most expensive. TDPUD attempted to enter the broadband market 15 years ago and that effort stalled largely because of aggressive moves and lawsuits from existing telecoms, but we ended up with some fiber assets and some conduit out of that. We now have four fibers from Reno to Sacramento so we’re figuring out how we can create value for the community with them.
We’ve been trying to lease those long-haul fibers for a long time; a couple of deals with AT&T fell through but we ended up with an agreement with Plumas Sierra Telecom, a subsidiary of Plumas Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative. They’re a public power, community owned not-for-profit just like us. They’re the electric supplier to the north, and as a creature of federal statute they’ve also been doing broadband for 25 years, because no private companies have historically been willing to go up into these little rural areas. These federal electric co-ops have filled that niche over the last 100 years.
TDPUD currently has over 60 miles (with 10 or 15 to go) of existing fiber that we’ve used to connect all of our operating facilities for supervisory control and data acquisitions. It’s become a tremendous operational asset for us and we’ve also used it to improve our security.
The district uses this fiber, as does Tahoe Forest Hospital, which needs both the bandwidth and reliability. Dickson Realty and others are also connected. The challenge is the customer needs to be close to TDPUD’s fiber optic network and the cost to physically connect is high.
An advantage to the fiber is that we have emergency backup power. TDPUD has it for our critical infrastructure, because if the power goes down you don’t want the water to go down too. When we had that transmission outage a few months ago and the internet everywhere went down, we didn’t and neither did the hospital. The town’s been beating on AT&T LTE and Suddenlink to put in redundancy (backup generators). The issue of reliability, redundancy, and resiliency is an important one but it costs money. So when people want to pay $19 a month and switch every six months to the new thing, it doesn’t pay for that.
Yet these projects connected to our fiber are high-cost, and it’s extremely expensive for the individual home, so that’s the attractiveness of the ultra 5G or satellite options if they can get there. You put a tower up on a pole and you have a box on a house. Once you have fiber into the home its capacity is unlimited; that’s why it’s so eloquent. If money wasn’t a factor everyone would do fiber! Beyond that, fiber is critical infrastructure because almost all these wireless options have to connect in to a fiber backbone (satellite being the exception).
~ Steven Poncelet, TDPUD Public Information Officer
Can you speak to the public mandate for TDPUD to pursue fiber broadband options?
The community has spoken loud and clear. We did focus groups and customer surveys during our recent strategic plan process; broadband was clearly one of the top two initiatives the community was interested that we pursue. I use the word pursue very specifically because there’s no project or plan to create a broadband business today. We have our partnership with PST but it’s not scaling up to a community level deployment in a timeframe that people want.
We could choose to buy a bunch of towers and create a telecom business to enter it directly, which is what we tried to do 15 years ago and there’s mixed history of utilities trying to do that. It’s a very competitive aggressive predatory market, and it’s a discretionary market; there’s no monopoly there. There’s tremendous opportunity with tremendous risk. We’ve also asked the question if we should have a public-public partnership like us and PST or a public-private partnership like us and Verizon or us and Google or us and whoever.
Right now the initiative is exploring the question: Should we pursue broadband and what role would we play to enable true broadband across the whole community?
~ Steven Poncelet
Oasis purports itself to be Tahoe/Truckee’s answer for today and uses a mix of technologies. How is your company getting fast internet into homes?
Oasis currently serves many of its customers using fixed wireless technology, which has been getting better and better to the point where the infrastructure we are building now performs more reliably and faster than cable internet.
We are now deploying fiber to the home as well for condo buildings, townhomes, HOAs, and even just groups of neighbors who are sick of bad internet. We have a project going right now on Alder Hill for a group of eight homeowners that have never had anything but satellite/cellular. By fall they will be on gigabit fiber. Our service can work in communities with just a few homes all the way up to HOAs of hundreds of homes.
Fiber speeds will eventually be as fast as 1 gigabit per second, which is roughly 100 times faster than DSL. Connections could even be faster in the future as the need arises. Where we don’t have enough interest, we can often do a wireless system that provides speeds that enable multiple streams of Super-HD streaming or 30 concurrent Zoom calls (hey, you never know!), along with the ability for kids to be very happy on massive multiplayer games. We just rolled out a wireless system for Kingswood in Tahoe Vista. They had been living in the internet dark ages there since … well, forever.
We target communities suffering from horrible internet and the more we hear from people in need, the easier it is for us to know where to deploy next. We’re in the process of launching our “Get me Fiber Fast!” Interactive Initiative which will allow people to register their interest in getting fiber internet, shows where we already have fiber hubs, and notes locations where residents have expressed interest on a map. It’s like a heat map for bad broadband. Once a neighborhood gets enough momentum we get them world-class internet.
For example, at this point we have heard from just about every resident of Russell Valley near Truckee. They are all desperate to be able to work from home or even just stream Netflix. So, we took that community’s plight to Nevada County as a part of their grant program administered by the Sierra Business Council and they awarded us a 50% grant to get that neighborhood up and running. We expect to do the same for the Donner Summit area next. We just finished building service to Prosser Dam (currently they only have DSL from AT&T, a service that is about to shut down), also on a grant from Nevada County.
Finally, in the most remote of places where people are still having to use HughesNet satellite internet, we offer internet connections over AT&T and T-Mobile towers. Now that 5G is out we are seeing some amazing speeds.
As for where we can service, we cover anywhere you can get cell service. However, our better fixed wireless service covers almost all of Truckee including the most far-out places like Martis Peak, Juniper Hill, and Schaeffer’s Mill. But we don’t cover Donner Lake yet. We’ve tried to focus on places that don’t have any other provider — little corners of Tahoe Donner for example where there is no cable or DSL like Skislope Way or Brookstone Drive. With our fixed wireless service, we cover Alpine Meadows, Tahoma, Ward Canyon, and Tahoe Vista; with our LTE service, almost everywhere else. We are planning a rollout for Squaw Valley including River Road, because many folks there are about to lose DSL. Down the hill we cover Colfax, Grass Valley, and are working on lots of new places like Auburn, Loomis, and Newcastle.
~ Devin Koch, Oasis president and CEO