Your Town Online, Inc

News item concerning new tower to provide improved service, December 2020

Letter sent to Mendocino County CEO, August 2020:

August 23, 2020

Re: Electrical Service request on Big Signal Peak

To whom it may concern,

Your Town Online is a provider of broadband internet and telecommunications services, and has provided service to business, residential, commercial and government customers within Mendocino County since 2002 under various brand names. We are writing today to request your assistance with a new project to further expand reach and capacity of our services, which benefit our mutual constituencies.

We are constructing a new expansion to our services at the location of Big Signal Peak, which is a remote location in the Sanhedrin wilderness, and which is also used by the County of Mendocino for one of it’s own Office of Emergency services remote transmitter stations. We have a permit from the US Forrest service, however, the issue of electric service at this location is of somewhat mysterious provenance. We contacted PG&E regarding meter service and learned that, while the power itself is provided by PG&E, it is carried over electric poles/lines owned by the County of Mendocino, and terminates on an electric panel within a structure also owned by the County of Mendocino. This means that in order to receive electric utility service, we would need to arrange to interconnect at your panel inside of this building so that PG&E may provide meter service to us.

We are aware that a similar arrangement is already being provided to another third party – Fisher Wireless, which operates a broadcast location several hundred yards to the south east and which connects to the electrical power at the main panel within your building at Big Signal Peak as well. Although we conducted a public records search, we were unable to locate any anything concerning this arrangement, so we assume this is a simple arrangement and easy to accommodate.

We are anticipating construction to start within the next few weeks and we would appreciate access as soon as possible. We are intending on using the same electrical contractor – Bush electric – who has performed prior electrical work at the location and is already familiar with the site, and I believe all we would need is a key for same.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Letter sent to supervisor Ted Williams, 11//21/21: Hello, Thank you again for taking the time.

The executive summary is, we are trying to get a simple electrical feed - on par with a toaster, vacuum, or coffee maker - to power a critically needed new broadband tower location out in the wilderness area - and are being obstructed by your staff for petty indefensible reasons that serve no legitimate public purpose at all. We have invested over $200,000 in this project, and have over 3gbps of new capacity to bring online to further bolster and enhance our services, and after more than a year of obstruction, we are now in the final phase of our project and the power feed is now required to finish. The required power is less than $75/mo and unfortunately there are individuals who appear to simply be on a personal jihad to personalize this so that my company specifically cannot have power access, while at the very same time this access is given to others without restriction. We have worked with county staff including Greg Glavitch and Walter Colon who both were on the ground and confirmed our request is easily doable and poses no risk at all. But the management - Doug Anderson, Janelle Rau - is bending to pressure from your county IT person Cody Snyder, to resist/hinder/obstruct/delay at every possible turn, and this is absolutely unacceptable. We need to act now before the main weather systems hit and the mountain is again inaccessible, forcing our customers (the voters and tax payers) to continue to wait for no purpose, for what otherwise is going to be a huge benefit to all.

Longer summary:

Your Town Online is a provider of Broadband here in Mendocino County and is the parent of Pacific Internet, and WillitsOnline. We have been here for 19 years and provide wireless, dsl, and fiber based broadband solutions to residential, commercial , and government users of all kinds, and operate a hybrid fiber/wireless network in the county to deliver our services to various areas of the county including Willits, Laytonville, Covelo, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Ukiah and Boonville.

For various reasons including the need for greater capacity, and to address some reliability and maintenance challenges due to leasing locations from others, we designed and built a new broadband tower location on Big Signal peak, on one of the highest points in Mendocino county, to serve as a new data interchange point to replace our former location. This new tower development was approved by the US Forrest service and development commenced in mid 2020. Late in development of the site, it was discovered that electrical utility power to this remote wilderness location was not purely PG&E, but was in fact PG&E carried over a few miles of power lines owned by the County of Mendocino. We researched this and for historical reasons, the county owns and operates these few miles of lines and is the only electric utility service in the area. It further is used to feed a building at Big Signal Peak, currently used by the county for some emergency communications equipment, and also, it feeds a commercial cell tower location just a few hundred yards away that is owned by Fisher Wireless Inc.

We approached the county CEO in August 2020 to announce our plan for this new location and asked simply for a power feed explaining what we had found. In response, they went into panic mode and embarked on quite an inappropriate campaign of phone calls, letter writing and other communications fielding every kind of objection to our lease imaginable, taking pot shot after pot shot in an none-too-subtle effort to derail our development and attempt at securing a rejection of our lease application with the Forrest service. These efforts ultimately went nowhere, and the county staff continued insisting on review upon review, and was given numerous opportunities to state it's case, and each 'concern' was resoundingly debunked by the Forrest service (for example, county claimed that we couldn't put our tower there because it needed to be able to fly in helicopters for 'emergency service' to that exact spot, which actually is not permitted. They neatly lied about this supposed need and also failed to mention the shiny new taxpayer funded ATV that county purchased for exactly this purpose, among other whoppers). It became evident that County staff was actually working with another company, Cox Communications, and had a plan in mind already and had committed already to provide power to a new proposed 196' tower on this location and that obstructing us was simply to favor this other company that would then help the county with it's own needs. However, the Forrest service stated we were the priority user because we applied first, and with all other concerns addressed, our lease/permit was issued. However, resistance to our project continued and we received very little in the way of responsive communication from County to our numerous requests to provide that simple electrical feed.

In continuation of this obstruction, County provided us with a copy of a letter from PG&E which seemed to drop into their laps and discusses 'private power lines' and construed the content of the letter to imply that NO additional electrical service may be plugged into any service receptacle anywhere, and used this trumped up misrepresentation to then claim we would just have to wait for next year or the year after when the lines would revert to PG&E ownership. They had this letter for 3 months before providing it to us, and then when we called the representative who wrote it, we were able to quickly confirm that the letter references new power drops off of this private line that involve new transformers and 'utility loads', NOT simple household type electrical devices connecting to electrical sockets at a location. We wrote back again to county staff again to provide the clarification to disprove this misinterpretation and then were given some dates to 'discuss' the matter further, and then.... nothing. And now, here is is the end of November 2021, your staff has made it clear that they don't WANT to provide this petty electrical connection - even tho they provide it to others - and have expended significant efforts to obstruct us and make the most wild incorrect and downright bizarre claims in order to support this position.

As I said, we are now $200,000 into this project and we are unable to continue to delay here. It is simply unfortunate that this one thing is under the control of county, because County is not nor has ever been a good partner and has only ever used its position to obstruct business and development here in Mendocino county. I have engaged every process I know of, and all backchannels I have access to, without success, and unfortunately I now am up against some very real constraints that may force my hand here. Your staff is completely out of line and there needs to be review.
Letter to Janelle Rau, Director Mendocino County General Services Agency, 12/13/21:

Re: Broadband tower – Big Signal peak

Mrs. Rau,

Due to the current storm conditions, Your Town Online and its various business entities and related end user customers, are facing an exigent public emergency concerning the availability of it’s services in some parts of Mendocino County. As you know, the internet is the choice communications medium for many people today often carrying critical information affecting the health, safety and well being of the general population and being a critical component of making those communications possible. The current storms with the snow, ice, and other weather related conditions, are affecting a central part of our telecommunications network and causing communications outages in the northern portion of the county at this time. These outages have long been anticipated and were the primary motivation for designing and building our new facility on Big Signal Peak and the corresponding $200,000 investment in all new hardware to accomplish same. To say that I am disappointed that this situation could have been prevented entirely, is an understatement.

While I have sought to cooperatively address any legitimate concerns that may have existed, you, Mrs. Rau, have acted in the most disingenuous manner possible, to obstruct these developments at every turn, exhibiting extremely poor judgment and management of your office and the public resources under discussion in the process. I have engaged with you as a show of good faith that processes can work and that the legitimate interests of the public don’t have to wind up before a board of supervisors meeting or in litigation every single time there is an important development underway. But the ongoing obstruction and unreasonable posture adopted by you really isn’t leaving us many other choices than to continue escalation of this most urgent matter.

I want to make it clear that due to the extreme storm conditions, I consider us now to be in a public emergency that is a threat of life, safety, and property due to reduced telecommunications capability of our customers and with the threat of looming telecommunications outages that would not occur except for the ongoing obstruction of our business development by you, Mrs Rau. Under these exigent circumstances, on the basis of using public resources to serve the public interest over your personal animus and ego, I am now considering the very real possibility of forcing the issue and making the required power connection without your further input or consent. I realize such an action is likely to quickly escalate into civil litigation, but I don’t see there is much choice given the stonewall obstruction and unreasonableness of your assertions to date, given the inputs of your own staff, the stated public policies of the Mendocino B.O.S, and others, and I feel that I would be remiss in not making every conceivable effort to continue delivering on these critical services despite any potential consequences that may otherwise result.

I have so far avoided making public statements concerning these developments and the rather unfair and disingenuous resistance / obstruction we have encountered to date. I desire your cooperation for the benefit of the public. I need a response soon and if we truly are unable to reach a speedy agreement, then my next actions will be to escalate and act in the best interests of the public to which we all serve.