Tag: "utopia"

Posted June 1, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Jesse Harris has posted an interesting update on the present UTOPIA situation, where a number of cities are heaping perhaps too much blame on UTOPIA for rising local taxes.

A lot of cities have been talking property tax hikes lately, and the most certain thing about all of the proposals is that elected officials are going to look for someone or something to blame. In UTOPIA member cities, blaming the fiber network has become the easy go-to solution, especially since so many mayors and city council members weren’t involved in the original decision. The problem, however, is that this blame is completely paving over a deeper problem of city tax structure that’s boring, doesn’t fit the anti-UTOPIA narrative, and is a much larger problem for city budgets. Let’s take the examples of West Valley City, Orem, and Taylorsville, the latter of which is not a UTOPIA member city. In all three cases, they’ve called for large (as a percentage) property tax increases to make up for lagging sales tax revenues. So if UTOPIA is the cause of property tax increases, why would a non-member city need to more-or-less do the same thing?

The discussion in the comments offer some additional news about UTOPIA's efforts to expand its subscriber-base by giving residents the option of "leasing" a last mile connection if they cannot afford to pay for it outright in areas where UTOPIA is presently not able to extend its network all the way to the home.

Communities seeking alternative ways of financing networks that simply issuing lots of debt upfront should examine the different approaches UTOPIA has pioneered.

Posted March 11, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

UTOPIA, the pioneering and oft-maligned open access FTTH network in Utah, has announced the DISH network as their latest service provider.

“We are partnering with DISH Network to provide more entertainment options to consumers through different mediums. DISH is at the forefront of recognizing that more and more people are changing the way they watch TV and that fewer of them are viewing their favorite programs on schedules determined by the content providers,” said Todd Marriott, Executive Director of UTOPIA. “DISH Network is one of the best content delivery companies out there, and we’re grateful to be doing business with them to offer content people want at a reasonable price.”

Securing a major ISP to operate on the UTOPIA network is a big win in part because of the marketing potential. While many UTOPIA customers are happy with their ISP, the ISPs are limited in their capacity to advertise. As a national company, DISH may be well poised to bring a many new subscribers to the network.

DISH also seems to be trying to get beyond just delivering TV channels. The discussion in the press release about sling-technologies suggest that DISH is concerned that its subscribers need better connectivity to the Internet to take full advantage of the technology DISH is offering them.

Jesse has given this some thought at Free UTOPIA:

First, let’s consider that DISH already has a lot of customers in UTOPIA areas. They could immediately start marketing both data and voice service to those subscribers. Given that they can cross-subsidize using revenues from other markets, using the MStar tactic of aggressive marketing would be sustainable. They also have installation and customer service staff in place to handle that influx.

That cross-subsidy can also help them pick up new customers on a triple-play package. One of the main barriers to signing up new customers has been the acquisition cost. DISH could potentially opt to subsidize or entirely eat the install cost as a way of speeding up deployment, something they have the cash to do. They can also double up their marketing to hit up potential new customers while marketing to existing ones.

Given's UTOPIA's history of trouble, having a...

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Posted January 17, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

As should happen with entities that are accountable to the public, the 2011 audit of the UTOPIA network in Utah is available for the public to read. In short, it appears that UTOPIA has continued its strong recovery.

Jesse at Free UTOPIA has the story and a rebuke for the Comcast-paid spinmeisters at the UTA using the report to attack the network (when was the last time Comcast released a similar audit?)

The golden ray of sunshine in the report is a jump in total revenues of 98.7% over the prior year while expenditures dropped 7.2%. (The UTA chose to focus on just operating revenues and omitted the information about dropping costs.) Saying that this is a huge improvement is an understatement, especially when this doesn’t include any of the new UIA subscribers in the mix. While there was a small drop in total subscribers (a net loss of 210 thanks to the Prime Time meltdown), the period from July 1 to December 31 netted an additional 1400 subscribers via the UIA. This isn’t included in the audit report since 1) the audit report covers the period from June 30 2010 to June 30 2011 and 2) all new residential subscribers are being brought on via the UIA and will be included in a separate audit report beginning next year.

...

So the short of it is that UTOPIA has posted huge increases in revenues, a modest decrease in expenditures, and it well on-track to sign up thousands of new customers by the time their current fiscal year closes. If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.

Posted January 5, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Provo built a city owned FTTH network after its public power utility started connecting its substations with fiber-optic cables in the early 2000's. iProvo ultimately developed along similar open access lines as UTOPIA, but unlike UTOPIA, Provo did not actually want to operate on a purely wholesale model.

iProvo was forced into the wholesale-only model, where the publicly owned network offered wholesale services to independent ISPs that then resold service to residents and businesses. Comcast and Qwest (now CenturyLink) recognized the threat posed by municipalities building next generation networks -- particularly in communities that did not even have full DSL and cable coverage from the giant providers that long delayed upgrades, knowing that subscribers had no other options.

Comcast and Qwest went to the state legislature and did what they do best -- bought influence and pushed through laws to essentially prohibit publicly owned networks from offering direct retail services, knowing that the wholesale-only approach had proved a very difficult model to work financially.

UTOPIA had long had a vision of making the open access, wholesale-only model work (that proceeded to largely fail, for a variety of reasons -- only to start turning around in recent years) but Provo, with its public power utility, was denied its preferred model of offering services directly.

iProvo was built at a cost of $40 million and has operated in the red since, though a number of postive externalities from the network was not included in those calculations. For instance, City Departments had access to much higher capacity connections than were available previously and were not charged for them (a poor practice in our estimation). For more details on iProvo, I recommend a video of a discussion in 2011.

At any rate, iProvo was then sortof sold off to a private provider (sort of because the city is still on the hook for the debt) in large part because private providers are not as crippled by state law. Unfortunately, the network has already developed a bad reputation for many (thanks to the state law preventing Provo from being able to ensure a good subscriber experience).

And now Provo is...

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Posted August 30, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Free UTOPIA has published some interesting information about iProvo, a broadband network that was originally publicly owned but crushed under the weight of harassment from Comcast and Qwest via the state legislature. iProvo was built around the same time as UTOPIA and was quite similar but not attached to it.

A few years back, it was privatized … sort of. The debt remained with the City even as they hoped the private service provider would be able to cover the necessary payments. That arrangement has not worked out.

Jesse Harris at Free UTOPIA has done a great job of continuing to cover both UTOPIA and iProvo, doing interviews with key people and digging into details to a great extent. This article explaining iProvo's difficult position is no different, presenting the dilemma from multiple points of view and assessing the options.

Most of you are already aware that Veracity’s reserve fund for iProvo has reached the point of potentially triggering a default. From the news stories you’ve read, odds are good that you think that Broadweave 2.0 is about to come crashing down on the city. I’ve sat down with Veracity and Mayor Curtis to get the real deal story and I don’t think it’s the apocalyptic scenario that sells papers and glues eyeballs to evening newscasts.

Read the full article to get a better sense of what options Provo has.

Update: Thanks to reader Jeff for providing some additional links with information about iProvo. Video from a recent iProvo meeting and a blog post on the latest from iProvo.

Posted August 4, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

When the UTOPIA network buildout stalled in 2007, some communities were left entirely unserved by a network they helped to create. But now at least two of those towns are finally getting connected to one of the nation's fastest networks where they can choose among many service providers, a rarity in the duopolistic world of US broadband.

The broadband stimulus programs is giving UTOPIA a new lease on life, expanding the middle mile capacity it needs to then connect more residents and businesses. And the community anchor institutions -- schools, libraries, city halls, and more -- will finally have robust reliable connections.

“We’d love to have it,” said Cris Hogan, executive vice president of Hogan & Associates Construction in Centerville. “It’s much faster, with more capabilities, and we’re hoping less expense.”

As a commercial builder, Hogan’s company frequently transfers detailed documents and plans to subcontractors electronically. Under current bandwidth conditions, that process can be time consuming, he said.

Hogan’s wait for screaming-fast Internet could soon be over.

“No one in Centerville has Utopia right now but they’re getting close with the stimulus,” said Blaine Lutz, the city’s finance director. His workplace, Centerville City Hall, should be hooked up by October.

The current expansion will connect 141 anchor institutions in the two communities as well as many more in Payson, Orem, Murray, Midvale, West Valley City, and Perry.

As of now, residents generally have to pay a steep upfront $3,000 connection fee for the physical connection, but local governments are investigating different options to allow residents to connect to the network affordably, as Brigham City did with a special assessment area.

As for the capacity of the network and value offering, it crushes Comcast.

Posted April 25, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Centerville is finally getting the fiber-optic network it wanted, after many years of waiting. UTOPIA has started work to expand its network, first to community anchor institutions and then to residents and businesses. UTOPIA had previously stopped expanding after problems with its business plan, management, and the intense opposition of incumbents Qwest and Comcast as well as other anti-government groups.

UTOPIA trucks have started working in Centerville this week, putting in hub and connector points that will help bring the long-planned fiber optic network to public institutions in the city.

Though this will also lay the groundwork for bringing the network to residents, the current phase of construction is covered by grant money that only involves government institutions. Construction on residential connections won’t begin until sometime this summer.

Centerville has been stuck with considerably less reliable wireless connections that do not offer anywhere near the capacity of fiber-optic cables. The network will go beyond the typical anchor institutions (e.g. City Hall, muni buildings, and often schools) to connect traffic lights as well -- an increasingly common approach.

After this phase, UTOPIA will begin expanding residential connections -- but they will prioritize areas that show the most interest in taking services.

Before the summer construction begins, residents should expect to see an information and advertising push explaining the different companies offering services on the UTOPIA network and seeking those wishing to sign up for the services (though UTOPIA and the UIA maintain the network, they offer no services. Outside companies, such as XMission, use the network for their services).

Placing the advertising before the construction will determine whether or not there’s enough demand to justify the expense of laying in the network in a given area.

UTOPIA continues to impress even past critics with its new management and approach.

Posted March 20, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Kane Loader, the City Manager for Midvale and Chair of the UTOPIA board, penned a recent op-ed explaining why UTOPIA is important to readers. UTOPIA is a trailblazer in the US open access fiber-optic network space. After initial problems, the network is showing a lot of promise and has long offered some of the fastest speeds available in the US at the lowest prices.

Utah can lead the way in this digital future, and the cities of UTOPIA are proud to be part of the cutting-edge solution.

We are building this network not as a money-making operation, although our financial situation improves as our subscriber base grows. We are building this network for the same reason local governments built highways in the 19th century and airports in the 20th century: This infrastructure will be what connects our 21st century world.

Posted September 29, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

On August 19, 2010, I was one of hundreds of people telling the Federal Communications Commission to do its job and regulate in the public interest. My comments focused on the benefits of publicly owned broadband networks and the need for the FCC to ensure states cannot preempt local governments from building networks.

My comments:

I’ll start with the obvious.

Private companies are self-interested. They act on behalf of their shareholders and they have a responsibility to put profits ahead of the public interest.

A recent post from the Economist magazine’s technology blog picks up from there:

WHY, exactly, does America have regulators? … Regulators, in theory, are more expert than politicians, and less passionate. …They are imperfect; but that we have any regulators at all is a testament … to the idea that companies left to their own devices don't always act in the best interests of the market.

They go on to say

If companies always agreed with regulators' rules, there would be no need for regulators. The very point of a regulator is to do things that companies don't like, out of concern for the welfare of the market or the consumer.

When we talk about broadband, there is a definite gap between what is best for communities and what is best for private companies. Next generation networks are expensive investments that take many years to break even.

With that preface, I challenge the FCC to start regulating in the public interest.

The FCC does not need a consensus from big companies on network neutrality. It needs to respect the consensus of Americans that do not want our access to the Internet to look like our access to cable television.

But while Network Neutrality is necessary, it is not sufficient. The entire issue of Network Neutrality arises out of the failed de-regulation approach of the past decade. Such policies have allowed a few private companies to dominate broadband access, giving communities neither a true choice in...

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Posted August 25, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

The open access UTOPIA network in Utah has been awarded broadband stimulus funds that will allow the network to serve hundreds of community institutions in several communities, which will aid them in the continuing last-mile rollout.

The grant was awarded to begin connecting nearly 400 schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community college locations, government offices and other important community institutions in sections of Perry, Payson, Midvale, Murray, Centerville, Layton, Orem, and West Valley City.

Jesse at FreeUTOPIA offered some thoughts on what the grant means locally.

I'm positively thrilled at the news - UTOPIA continues to push ahead with a unique approach to fiber infrastructure that would solve most of the nation's broadband problems, including the one abandoned by everyone in DC: creating true competition for subscribers.

Unrelated to the broadband stimulus award, Pete Ashdown penned an excellent op-ed about UTOPIA: Fiber infrastructure best handled by government.

There certainly are commercial examples of roads, airports, sewers, water treatment, but nothing on the scale of the interstate highways, national and international airports, and facilities that service large populations. The interests of business are narrow — returning a profit and increasing shareholder return.

These interests go against broad long-term goals that infrastructure serves — facilitating economic exchange and the general welfare. If every airline was required to build their own airport and every shipping company needed their own road, America would be on par with Somalia as an economic force.

To critics of UTOPIA or more broadly, public ownership of infrastructure, he writes:

There is no doubt that iProvo and UTOPIA have seen mismanagement. The Federal Highways Act saw corruption, graft and bribes during its creation. Yet only a fool would regard our highways as a waste of money.

The remedy to government mismanagement is full transparency with active citizen oversight. It is time this country embraces fiber infrastructure...

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