Skies have been brightening for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency Network (UTOPIA). The trend is continuing for the network that has seen rough times in the past, testament to their fortitude, creativity, and ability to turn lemons into lemonade.
Most recently, UTOPIA announced that they had reached an agreement with the town of Layton, Utah, to finish deploying fiber infrastructure to residents and businesses. UTOPIA plans to have deployment in Layton, where approximately half of the city currently has access to the infrastructure, completed within 24 months.
According to Jesse Harris at Free UTOPIA!, expert at all things UTOPIA, this build out varies from deployment in the earlier days of construction in a few ways:
For starters, UIA [Utah Infrastructure Authority] can now issue bonds on its own authority. This means cities no longer have to use their bonding capacity to back them. The Layton plan also has the city backing the bonds using city franchise fees. If the subscriber numbers fall below what is required to pay the bond (which, to date, has not happened in a single UIA expansion area), the city pledges to cover the difference. On the flip side, if revenues exceed the bond payments (which has happened in most UIA expansion areas), the city gets to keep a cut of that for whatever they want. This could include paying off the original UTOPIA bonds, funding other city services, or anything else, really. It’s important to note that this revenue split option is only available to cities who assumed the original debt service.
Harris speculates that, due to the housing boom in the region, UTOPIA may face a difficult time recruiting the people they need to build the network. There are also almost two dozen potential UTOPIA communities engaged in feasibility studies. All these factors, in addition to the possibility of access to materials, may impact the ability for the network to expand at the rate they’d consider ideal.
10 Gigs for Residents
In January, we reported that UTOPIA announced a financial milestone — for the first time, revenue covered bond payments and also allowed a 2 percent dividend for most member communities.
That same month, network officials announced that residents would have access to 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical connections, the first in the state.
“For a state that showcases its Silicon Slopes, no other network in Utah will be able to offer internet speeds close to UTOPIA Fiber’s new 10 gig service,” said Roger Timmerman, UTOPIA Fiber’s Executive Director. “These speeds enable any residence to become the ultimate smart home.”
Working With Idaho Falls
Late in September, UTOPIA Fiber and Idaho Falls, Idaho, announced that the city will work with UTOPIA Fiber to design and manage a pilot program to bring fiber optic connectivity to city residents. The pilot project, an experiment in whether or not the city will expand to a citywide solution, will end in the spring of 2019. By then, Idaho Falls Fiber expects to have enough data to determine if they wish to expand the program.
In August, we brought news about the city’s decision to engage in the pilot project in order to test the waters, estimate costs, and head off some of the challenges they may face if they decide to expand beyond the pilot project phase. Idaho Falls is located across the Snake River from Ammon, which has garnered publicity for developing their publicly owned network as a way to improve competition. Idaho Falls, where the dark fiber Circa network has served businesses for years now, has been slower to respond to the growing need in the community.
General Manager of Idaho Falls Power and Idaho Falls Fiber Bear Prairie told the Post Register that the city does not intend to offer retail services, but to deploy the infrastructure and work with Internet service providers interested in offering services via the fiber. Ten providers offer different types of services via UTOPIA’s fiber network. This is the first time UTOPIA Fiber has worked with another entity from outside of the state.
“We are excited to be able to work with Idaho Falls on their project,” said UTOPIA Fiber’s Executive Director Roger Timmerman. “As the largest open-access network in the country, there’s nobody else with the experience and expertise that we have.”