Editorial. Frontier TeleNet: Baffling, Disheartening & Embarrassing
Frontier Telenet Assessment by County Solutions, Fall 2017
Frontier Telenet: Upgrades, Needs; Planning Session Last week
Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good. ~ Thomas Sowell
1. Editorial. Frontier TeleNet: Baffling, Disheartening & Embarrassing
Let us be clear! We’ve followed Frontier TeleNet from its formative years and want to see it succeed.
We expected more of the Frontier TeleNet board of directors and contractors when they met last week. We expected them to arrive having seriously studied the assessment and recommendations made by County Solutions for the owners of Frontier TeleNet, the people in Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler counties.
We expected their thoughtful responses to each recommendation (below): a systems audit, development of a vision and strategy, a business plan, a marketing plan… all very basic responsibilities, and serious consideration and debate about an umbrella Chapter 190 organization, hiring a Frontier TeleNet manager, formalizing duties of the secretary-treasurer, and forming an advisory committee.
Instead, their thoughtless, careless responses show that board members and staff lack the will to do the work to deal with the seriousness of their situation.
Instead, their foolish responses reveal an arrogant disrespect for the people they represent and the money spent on this important assessment.
Whomever it was that, “assured there was no need to go through AOC’s report,” is not competent to represent us. This report is an important and timely public document that belongs to all of us. We deserve to hear our representatives consider, debate and decide.
Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler county courts and Frontier TeleNet’s contracted staff are complicit in such continuing failures of planning and process.
We deserve and expect a professional performance by our elected and un-elected officials. We must insist!
2. Frontier Telenet Assessment by County Solutions, Fall 2017
“Frontier Telenet Assessment – Gilliam, Sherman, Wheeler County
Performed by County Solutions Fall 2017
“At the request of the Frontier Telenet Board of Directors, the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) County Solutions program has undertaken an assessment of its structures and review mechanisms in order to improve coordination, partnering and public engagement for the intergovernmental entity. The assessment also examined the organization’s capacity to provide administrative, marketing, and operations functions.
“This assessment was conducted through interviews with Frontier Telenet’s board members and staff, local government officials and staff, stakeholders and interested members of the public. In addition, the responsibilities of an intergovernmental entity have been reviewed. The following provides categories of work that this assessment addressed. Following the background in each category, the report offers recommendations for the Telenet Board’s consideration in next steps to address issues identified in the assessment.
“Background. Frontier Telenet was established in 2001 to support the 911 function and serve the region’s schools and libraries. Much has happened in the field of telecommunications since that time and new challenges and opportunities have emerged. Today, broadband technology continues to evolve at a rapid rate. This creates the need for an adaptive organization that can both plan for and respond to the opportunities and challenges that exist in the present and in the future.
“Conduct a systems audit. The infrastructure that makes up the Frontier Telenet system has been built over time and while staff associated with the organization have knowledge of its components, a comprehensive inventory is needed. An asset map should also include the status of leases and agreements that support the infrastructure. An inventory would help the organization identify what upgrades are needed and prepare for the next generation of technology. Additionally, cataloging Frontier Telenet’s current customers and the status of their accounts is needed to accompany the infrastructure audit in order to provide a baseline for future planning.
“Establish a vision. Given the changes in technology, there are new opportunities that should be considered going forward, such as the new generation 911, which connects personal cell phones and tablets. Developing an integrated technology strategy would require particular kinds of system upgrades. The organization should determine its vision in relation to the role they play relative to retail and residential customers. Opportunities for economic development should also be considered to determine how to best position the region going forward. A vision that has regional ownership – including the counties, cities and users – will serve the organization in developing a solid business plan.
“Develop a Business Plan. A business plan should build on the asset map, and be based on the vision to establish what kind of service is needed. The plan should outline the system upgrades that are needed and a strategy for how to pay for them. The plan should also develop a strategy to sequence new investments in the region and ensure expectations of service do not exceed the capacity of the systems to deliver them. The plan needs to be adaptable and should be reviewed at least every two years given the rapid pace of technological evolution in the field. To build ownership in the business plan, it should be developed in a transparent manner with opportunities for engagement with stakeholders.
“Develop a Marketing Plan. While Frontier Telenet has taken steps to focus on marketing by hiring staff to pursue opportunities, a more detailed marketing plan, which follows the development of the vision and, more directly, the business plan would be useful. The marketing plan also needs to be adaptable as the opportunities have changed over time and the demand is changing rapidly as well.
“Background. Frontier Telenet is governed by a Board of Directors that is comprised of one member from each of the participating counties. The governing body of each county appoints a representative to the Board under Article ll of the intergovernmental agreement that created Frontier Telenet. Board Members serve at the pleasure of the respective governing body. The Board elects a President, Vice President, and Secretary/Treasurer. Collectively, these are the “Officers” of the Board. Under Article ll, the Board elects Officers who serve a term of one year. This is done annually, at the beginning of the year.
“Communication with Boards of Commissioners. Given the growing importance of Frontier Telenet to the counties and the region it is important that the county governing bodies are well informed about the plans and activities of the organization. Each member of the Telenet Board should provide regular updates to each Board of Commissioners. This is particularly important given the need to have well informed members who can seamlessly assume board duties when commissioners retire or leave office.
“Consider forming an umbrella ORS 190 organization that includes multiple Lower John Day counties functions There are several county functions that are provided in the three-county region, in addition to Frontier Telenet, such as: veterans services; economic development; building codes; community corrections, etc. Combining functions, such as these, under an umbrella ORS 190 organization could allow the three counties to have a more centralized capacity that could benefit operations.
“Background. Article ll of the founding agreement outlines the duties of each Officer of the Board, including the Secretary/Treasurer, which states: “The Secretary/Treasurer shall keep the minutes and official records of Frontier Telenet. The Secretary/Treasurer shall be responsible for the fiscal administration of all funds of Frontier Telenet. The Secretary/Treasurer and the President shall act as co-signers of checks drawn upon the accounts of Frontier Telenet. The Secretary/Treasurer may delegate the administrative functions of his or her office to another person who need not be on the Board. A unanimous vote is required to decide financial matters, the hiring and discharging of employees and for the acceptance of Scopes of Work for each project undertaken by Frontier Telenet including any contractual arrangements. Each Scope of Work shall be maintained by the Secretary as a part of Frontier Telenet’s corporate records.”
“Frontier Telenet has been staffed by a part time contracted manger since its inception. The responsibilities of managing the organization have transitioned over time given the evolving complexities of the telecommunications landscape, the new demands for service and the competition among private providers. As the organization has no employees and relies on contractors, it has required Board Members to assume many functions of management. In the area of fiscal administration, Frontier Telenet is owed approximately $900,000 in E-Rate dollars that have gone unpaid over the past three to four years.
“Formalize delegation of Secretary/Treasurers duties. The responsibility of the Secretary/Treasurer is well defined in the bylaws and the delegation of various components of that responsibility should be documented in writing along with expectations in order to ensure accountability. Specifically delegate responsibility to collect E-Rate dollars owed Frontier Telenet These funds are important to the fiscal sustainability of Frontier Telenet. Past assurances that this issue will be resolved have not borne fruit. A new strategy is needed.
“Consider hiring a manager for Frontier Telenet. Given the changing, increasingly complex environment noted above, the job of managing Frontier Telenet has become very demanding. It places too high a burden on Board Members who have other significant responsibilities carrying out their duties as County Commissioners. Also, given the competition among various providers, it would be beneficial to hire an individual who is an employee of Frontier Telenet. Negotiations as infrastructure is built out and plans are developed and implemented require sustained focus.
“Background. Frontier Telenet is an ORS 190 organization which means that it is a intergovernmental organization that carries responsibilities for transparency and maintenance of records, among other functions. There have been public requests for information and transparency that need to be addressed on an ongoing basis. Frontier Telenet is moving to establish an office space in Sherman County and to provide a website where the public can track the activities of the organization. It is also exploring the establishment of an accessible phone system that makes it easier to have a centralized point of contact for the public.
“Clarify responsibility for records management. The responsibility for records management lies with the Board’s Secretary/Treasurer, which can be delegated to an individual not on the Board. This delegation should be clearly articulated, and expectations should be outlined to ensure accountability.
“Continue efforts to establish a transparent organization. The value of transparency is an informed public that can contribute to the success of Frontier Telenet. Efforts underway should continue and evolve with the needs of the organization. Creating a culture of openness among all Board Members, staff, associated partners and stakeholders will create a shared mission for the region. A session with an expert on the transparency requirements and functions of 190 organizations would help in taking next steps for the organization.
“Consider creating an Advisory Committee. Frontier Telenet should consider creating an Advisory Committee of key stakeholders to review and comment on important plans and programs in a more interactive setting than an official meeting of the Board. An advisory committee could also provide a new forum to resolve differences in the region.”
3. Frontier Telenet: Upgrades, Needs; Planning Session Last week
~From the February 22, 2018 issue of The Times-Journal with permission:
Directors of Frontier Telenet met at Fossil last week for a monthly session with staff and contract personnel. A financial report was provided indicating receivables and transfers amounting to $294,665.16 for the month of January and expenses amounting to $176,263.25 for the month. Judge Gary Thompson requested that a listing of accounts receivable also be included in the financial report.
Board members heard brief updates on the City of Condon/Gilliam County fiber middle-mile project, which included that the contract had been awarded to Inland Development Corp., also known as Windwave, and that contract issues are currently being finalized.
Mike Smith, Frontier Telenet marketing director, reported on the Frontier Regional 911 contract with the Burns Paiute Tribe which was activated Feb. 1, saying “So far so good.” Ryan LeBlanc and Todd Cox, Day Wireless consultant technicians, also indicated that Burns/Paiute law enforcement have also indicated that system is working well.
Regarding the Wheeler County wireless project, LeBlanc reported that Phase I of the project is 98 percent complete, and Day Wireless is working with Rural Technologies Group users to get them ‘migrated’ to the new system that is being installed, which he said would be about a month-long project.
Phase II, LeBlanc reported, would begin this week, and will include upgrades on the digital switch, and work on Ashwood and Keys Mountain sites will “bring a pipe into Mitchell.” He indicated the application process needs to begin now to allow for work on the new 700 megahertz system on Keys Mountain to begin in the third quarter of this year.
Regarding potential new users, Smith reported that he is working with Motorola to develop a plan to help Deschutes County as a potential customer of digital switch capacities.
Smith’s report on the Cottonwood communications tower indicated that it is “still moving forward.” Equipment for the tower is being built by Motorola, and Smith anticipates the tower will be “up and running by fire season,” or more precisely, the Fourth of July. The site for the tower is on private property and the “shelter and generator are there for us.” The communications tower was stipulated as a condition when Cottonwood Canyon State Park was originally established over three years ago. “We’ve fallen on our knees on this issue,” Judge Steve Shaffer, Frontier Telenet chairman, said on the issue of the park communications tower.
On the matter of the Intergovernmental Agreement with Sherman County, and the agreement between the state and Sherman County, it was noted that with the passing of Frontier Telenet and Sherman County legal counsel Will Carey, the agreements have been delayed. Attorney Jim Deason, by phone, suggested an agreement to allow Frontier Telenet to administer the Wasco to Rufus fiber project and indicated he would have an agreement drawn up within a week.
In other matters, directors: — approved the standard engagement letter and contract for auditing services by Oster Professional Group not to exceed $6,880. — appointed Jeanne Burch as budget officer. — approved a budget committee of Frontier Telenet directors Steve Shaffer, Gary Thompson and Lynn Morley, along with Pat Shaw, Chris Humphreys and Brad Lohrey. — agreed that budget committee meetings would coincide with the regular monthly meeting schedule. — noted that Frontier Telenet is now officially in office space at the Steve Burnet/Extension Service Center in Moro. — heard that Frontier Telenet has submitted a bid to supply broadband to Mid Columbia Producers in Moro. — heard that Inland Development will bring in more broadband capacity than has been spoken for in the Condon/Gilliam County project. — heard that the internet service provider serving Wheeler County, Rural Technologies Group, will continue, along with other ISPs, to provide broadband service to the home, but from new Frontier Telenet equipment installed by Day Wireless at current and perhaps additional Frontier Telenet towers. — heard that Frontier Telenet service is not exclusive of rural homes, that service is available countywide based on current tower sites, and that Frontier Telenet is looking at additional tower sites and solar repeater sites as part of the county’s $2 million communications grant.
Frontier Telenet directors had also scheduled a planning session to consider the results of a report issued after personnel in the Frontier Telenet – Association of Oregon Counties had reviewed the capacity of the organization under current management.
Meeting with the directors initially in the work session was Mike McArthur, former Sherman County Judge and now executive director of the Association of Oregon Counties.
Assured there was no need to go through AOC’s report, McArthur began by suggesting the board consider hiring a manager and/or developing a tri-county organization with a manager that would over-see not only Frontier Telenet, but also provide the administrative capacity for other county programs and services, such as veterans’ affairs, corrections, public health, mental health, search and rescue, building codes, human resources. Judge Thompson spoke saying the idea “sounds just like more government. The smaller you are, the better off you are.” But added the realization that the counties don’t have the capacity to make what is currently in place work. “When you look at your needs,” McArthur encouraged, “think about how an umbrella organization can help.”
Judge Thompson questioned what it might take for a land use planner to cover the three counties. Sherman County Commissioner Tom McCoy, from the audience, noted that Mid-Columbia Council of Governments has recently folded because it couldn’t pay for the ‘capacity’ it had developed. “The basic question is, how do you pay for capacity?” McCoy asked. Mike Smith asked, “Could a manager for Frontier Telenet do other management? Would it be full-time? Is an advisory committee a possibility?”
Steve Shaffer noted that “Frontier Telenet currently covers public safety infrastructure and public broadband.” Gary Thompson questioned whether it could be privatized or contracted out. Steve Shaffer suggested that “a mission statement is a good idea,” and regarding a business plan, “we sort of have one.” Gary Thompson pointed out that Frontier Telenet does not have a business plan written out. “We need to recognize our accomplishments and history,” said Mike Smith, and he praised the wireless system that was developed in 2001 and has been self-sustaining, and noted the uniqueness of three small counties partnering to develop such a system. He went on to say that Frontier Telenet needs to continue to update and upgrade its broadband service, and to continue to keep up the level of service. The purchase of the digital switch in 2012 has provided us with much more capacity.
Ryan LeBlanc presented the board with information regarding upgrades to equipment that will need to take place within the next five years, with approximate costs. Frontier Telenet’s Smith and Day Wireless’ Ryan LeBlanc and Steve Wynne will meet to prioritize these upgrades and improvements.
Further into the process of the work session, directors considered Frontier Telenet’s strengths, which they determined included: — The system is open to anyone. — We have a really good network. — Three counties working together to create something great. — You’ve been an inspiration to other areas. And challenges included: — Keep our existing business plan. — Get more customers. — Change the perception that we are poorly organized. — Keeping our head above water. — Get others to help promote the system. — Get day Wireless and Deschutes County to step up and say something, let people know we are here.
And as to who does Frontier Telenet serve, directors concluded: — We serve ourselves, schools, neighboring counties. — Cell phone companies, ISPs, clinics, 911.
Who are Frontier Telenet’s potential customers? — Other state and local governments, suppliers of last mile. — Other entities and counties.
Before closing the meeting, Sherman Commissioner Tom McCoy added some thoughts. He suggested that Frontier Telenet provide an accounting of how fiber is being used and what revenue is being generated from it. He also suggested that Frontier Telenet establish goals, or a schedule, regarding what broadband users can expect and when can they expect it; and also that Frontier Telenet establish a financial plan spelling out what will be done, when will it be done and how much will it cost.
Frontier Telenet directors will meet again Thursday, March 16, 10 a.m. at the Steve Burnet/Extension Service Center in Moro. The meetings are open to the public.