Tag: "utah"

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 November 12, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Spanish Fork, a well-regarded community broadband network, is now offering triple-play services on its hfc network. Previously, the town was offering broadband and television but recently added telephone after feeling the time was right.

From the article:

John Bowcut, director of Information Systems for Spanish Fork, said 15 percent of homes signed up when told telephone service was available over the cable. The network only used door hangers to advertise at first because it intended to have a slow rollout. Then the service was promoted in the city newsletter.

SFCN's phone rollout was slow for a reason. Small neighborhoods were notified one at a time, which allowed the network to handle the load. Bowcut said they didn't want to open sign-ups citywide and then have to tell people their connection date was three months out. He said the most people had to wait this way was 10 days.

Initially about 1,500 homes signed up for phone service, out of 5,534 homes in Spanish Fork.

The new telephone service runs an economical $14.95 with a variety of features. 75% of the town takes at least one service from the network, perhaps because of the great customer service:

Perrins was a beta tester for the system. He thought going through that process was awesome. They fixed every problem quickly and fine-tuned the network. "It was fun because the employees were so excited and eager to find and fix the problems."

Prior to the telephone rollout, only some 60% of the community took a service from the network, as explained in this article

About 60 percent of Spanish Fork residents already subscribe to SFCN's cable TV and high-speed Internet. The customer appeal of the city-run communications utility is that Spanish Fork provides both the infrastructure and the service -- a practice that was actually outlawed by the Utah Legislature in 2004, though Spanish Fork was grandfathered in.

This means SFCN can cut out any middle-man service provider, which amounts to about $2 million in savings each year, Mayor Wayne Andersen said.

"I think it was a sad day when the state Legislature put the kibosh on that sort of thing," Andersen...

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Posted September 5, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

We previously covered Qwest's admitted attempts to drive out competition in Utah, but the story has continued with the personal story of another subscriber forced to leave his independent service provider for Qwest's services.

I called XMission and they said the speed problem was with Qwest. I called the Utah PSC and got an expert on the line who explained the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He confirmed Qwest being able to choke out other ISPs on substandard speed-limited connections, while Qwest offers much higher speeds than our earlier DSL if Qwest is ISP. We sadly switched, after calling XMission and commiserating with them about this monopolistic practice. The PSC acknowledged this seems anti-competitive, but it’s the law. Who made such a law for Utah!?

As we have said on numerous occasions, without community broadband networks, the future of broadband competition is quite bleak... at least in the U.S. Canada's telecom regulator has shown far more courage than our FCC.

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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Posted July 27, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

More towns in Utah are deciding whether to support UTOPIA's new plan to expand the network and recover from the significant errors of the first managers. Under the new management, UTOPIA has added new ISPs and thousands of new subscribers, a significant turn around for a network many had written off as a failure.

Unfortunately, UTOPIA has too much debt and no capital to expand the network to bring new subscribers online. As we have consistently maintained, building next-generation networks is challenging in the best of circumstances - and the circumstances around the towns in Utah are far from ideal.

Most of the information in this post comes directly or indirectly from the Free UTOPIA blog which has excellent independent coverage of the network (as well as stinging critiques of wasted opportunities like the broadband stimulus).

I strongly recommend following FreeUTOPIA, but I wanted to comment on some of the recent developments.

As UTOPIA and some member cities have formed a new agency to fund further expansion. Five cities have agreed to be part of the new Utah Infrastructure Agency with at least 2 deciding against and more still considering what they want to do. The Salt Lake Tribune has tepidly endorsed the plan (which involves some changes regarding rogue providers - something I want to follow up on).

The Utah Taxpayers Association (which is funded by Qwest and Comcast, among others) decided to mount a big protest in Orem to convince the City to abandon UTOPIA. Rather than simply waiting to see what effect the rally would have, UTOPIA responded decisively.

The Utah “Taxpayers” Association thought it would get an upper hand with a BBQ in Orem just before the city council voted on a new construction bond. Unfortunately for them, the plan backfired when UTOPIA made a surprise appearance at the event with their “mobile command center” and started actually talking directly with...

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Posted May 13, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

UTOPIA, the open access FTTH network in several cities of Utah, has been seeking some $20 million to continue adding new subscribers to the network. The cities involved seem to be on board, committing to the funding following recent successes.

Mayor Mike Winder, of West Valley City - one of the UTOPIA cities, makes the case for digging deeper to lend money to the network:

UTOPIA's good news is that since June 2008, it's added over 3,500 new customers and reached about 10,000 subscribers, the number of service providers on the network has grown from three to 12, and national voices — from Google to the New York Times — are trumpeting the virtues of an open-fiber network.

The plain and simple fact is that these towns have already committed to the project; they are vested in its success. Now under better management, perhaps his whole town will have access to fastest speeds available in the country:

Only 23 percent of my city has UTOPIA fiber, and there are homes and businesses that want access to the speed of light. After weighing the issue for months, I've concluded that we need to bring UTOPIA fiber to the rest of West Valley City, and just as importantly, to grow UTOPIA to profitability. I will be encouraging my council and my colleagues in UTOPIA cities around the state to join me in charging forward.

A press release from UTOPIA announces ambitious plans:

The new plan anticipates adding about 20,000 more customers over the next several years. “We’ve known for a long time that UTOPIA needs a much larger customer base, and a good mix of business and residential customers, to make the books balance,” says Murray Mayor Dan Snarr. “Our cities are already obligated to the network for years to come, so we need to grow to critical mass rapidly, based on a plan to ensure long-term financial health.”

And Orem's mayor reiterated UTOPIA's philosophy (noting that the NY Times have called for open access networks):

Governments build roads, and allow FedEx and UPS to compete on...

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Posted April 12, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Jesse Harris interviews Todd Marriott, Executive Director of UTOPIA about the network, its relationships with the member cities, and their round two application for broadband stimulus funds.

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