In an announcement at the Mountain Connect conference last week in Keystone, Colorado, municipally owned open-access network operator UTOPIA Fiber announced it has completed its build in West Valley City, Utah. It marks a major milestone, both for residents in the city (who have worked for years to take back control of their information infrastructure) and for the network as a whole (finishing work on one of the original partner cities in the project itself).
Herculean Push Since 2020
Work offically began on West Valley City in 2004, Executive Director Roger Timmerman and Deputy Director and Chief Marketing Officer Kim McKinley shared at the press event, but expansion efforts have not been steady over the last 18 years. Instead, for a myriad of reasons, progress has been made in fits and starts, with a burst in 2009 but most development happening over the last two years. Local leaders have long recognized the value in completing the build, with residents clamoring for years.
The work comes as part of a five-year accelerated broadband construction plan, though 75 percent of the progress in West Valley City, according to Timmerman and McKinley, has happened just in the last two years. This has been in part because the network has been able to leverage its excellent financial position to be the financial backstop for commercial debt without having to go to the bond market or get fiscal pledges from member cities. This has enabled UTOPIA to move more quickly.
Today, aside from a few Homeowner's Associations (HOAs) and Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs), West Valley City has been ubiquitously connected to the open access, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, unlocking the potential of fast, affordable, symmetrical connections for all (see map below).
We hear all the time that municipal broadband is really only successful in smaller cities. I think that it is huge to say that a city of 141,000 is not just built out but they have choice of 16 different providers and what that means to the community.
There are 16 providers offering residential service on the onetwork, with plans ranging from 250 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) for betwen $35/month and $200/month.
UTOPIA leadership specifically lauded the work as a success for digital equity work, with the city home to one of the most diverse populations in the state.
There's no word on how much has been spent on the West Valley City build specifically, but Timmerman shared that its completion brings UTOPIA buildout projects to almost $500 million since inception.
UTOPIA Fiber completed 21,000 new passings in 2021, and saw an increasing percentage of subscribers sign up for symmetrical gigabit service than ever before (nearly 65 percent).
Today, only two cities remain to be completed on the original list of UTOPIA Fiber communities. Midvale and Payson were both completed last year. Orem is 90 percent complete today, and Murray is 97 percent complete. Network officials anticipate completing both by the end of 2022.
Timmerman and McKinley also shared that the future looks busy, with a long cities of cities (both within Utah and without) calling about partnerships and others ways to improve local connectivity and increase competition., in places like Colorado, Arizona, and Idaho).