Tag: "utah"

Posted January 19, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

If you are a 21st century crafter, you are probably prolific at finding inspiration online. You may be familiar with American Crafts of Orem for ideas or products. The company, founded in 1994, is now a customer of UTOPIA and reports significant bandwidth improvement after the switch from old T-1 connections. From the UTPOIA blog:

With a robust e-commerce presence, American Crafts has to rely on its network. According to Kris Barlow, IT Manager, before switching to UTOPIA, the firm used a single T-1 connection, along with two additional T-1 connections to connect a remote warehouse in Provo. “Our Provo location was using an iProvo connection at the time. By switching to UTOPIA, we could use a single fiber connection to our headquarters building which provided much faster Internet speeds—up to 10 Mbps on our service plan, as compared with traditional T-1 speeds.”

Barlow also notes how the switch has allowed the company to consolidate headquarters and warehouse locations. Reliablity has also been a key improvement:

“In the three years that we've had UTOPIA service, I can remember only two or three service interruptions, all of which were resolved within the same day and were not related specifically to our connection,” he says. “Using the UTOPIA network has allowed us to drastically reduce the fee that we pay for Internet service when compared to the T-1 connections we were previously using, all while also drastically increasing the bandwidth of the connection.”

Because UTOPIA is open access, the company could keep the same phone provider, as it is an ISP on the UTOPIA network. The switch was seamless:

“This allowed for us to simply add the UTOPIA service to our current provider’s bill and allowed us to avoid the hassle of establishing a new account with a new provider,” Barlow says.

Posted January 6, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Since 2008, we have followed and reported on the peaks and valleys that is UTOPIA. Recently, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a series on the regional network. The coverage includes a sampling of the bitter and sweet of the complex relationship between the pioneering network, the state, and the customers it serves.

As many of our readers know, UTOPIA is mired in debt and endless political controversy as Comcast and CenturyLink fund "think tanks" to attack it.  Tony Semerad from the Tribune talked to our own Chris Mitchell:

"When you build a network like this, it takes a minimum of several years of spending a lot of money before you start to get it back from your customers,’’ said Christopher Mitchell

As Christopher goes on to note, a large debt from the beginning to create an open access network is not a favorable situation. Additionally, past management made choices that still negatively impact the network. Constricting legislation at the state level prevents the network from expanding to a more profitable retail market, weakening it even further. Also from the article:

State law requires UTOPIA to operate as a wholesaler, a limitation conceived at UTOPIA’s inception when telecommunications giants such as CenturyLink and Comcast, now called Xfinity, grew wary of plans by Spanish Fork and Provo to get into the cable television business and lobbied state lawmakers for protections.

Some communities express derision at the situations they face regarding UTOPIA, having been left with debt and not yet received the ubiquitous access they anticipated. Some communities, who are still waiting for better subscriber numbers, already see improved economic development and remain patient. Connected communities vary in their satisfaction and level of support:

Layton » Mayor Steve Curtis believes UTOPIA fiber-optic lines already are luring business to his Davis County city and benefiting residents. The grid is built out to a small portion of Layton, one of eight municipalities that have...

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Posted December 14, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

Back in 2010, we reported on the municipal network in Spanish Fork, Utah. Back then, the utility innaugurated its telephone service, which completed its triple play offering. With recent discussion around Utah's UTOPIA, Spanish Fork is getting a second look.

A Cimaron Neugebauer, Salt Lake Tribune article, highlights the success of the Spanish Fork Communications Network (SFCN). When we last reported on SFCN, 60% of residents subscribed to its cable television and high-speed Internet service. Two years later, the numbers are even higher:

Spanish Fork runs its own municipal network to deliver telephone, cable TV and Internet services. The network has deep ties with the community and is popular with residents, nearly 80 percent of whom are customers.

"It’s exciting to live in community that invests in this kind of thing," resident Bret Bills said.

A combination of bonding and borrowing paid for the $7.5 million network including a municipal electric utility substation. Construction began in 2001. The investment continues to pay off:

Today, the city currently makes about $1 million a year profit from the service and its bonds of $600,000 annually will be paid off in 2015.

The network is a combination of fiber and coax cable. As is often the case, the community acted to fill the gap left by the failure of the private sector, involving the community along the way. From the SFCN website:

SFCN offers services that no other company will provide and can only be implemented by the public sector. The Spanish Fork Community Network has been established to serve the residents of Spanish Fork, not the interests of some large corporation.  We have involved the citizens of Spanish Fork since the systems inception through a local Citizen's Ad Hoc Committee and it has ensured the system is design to meet the needs of Spanish Fork.

Unlike UTOPIA, SFCN is able to offer retail services, having been grandfathered in at the time of the crippling Municipal Cable TV and Public Telecommunications Services Act.

Prices are incredibly...

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Posted December 13, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

In August, we reported on the results of a report on UTOPIA by the Office of the State Auditor General of Utah. As you will recall, the results were less than favorable and presented more fodder for those opposed to municipal telecommunications infrastructure investment.

The same old arguments often rest on the financial investment in municipal networks - they are considered failures if they don't break even or make money. Pete Ashdown, founder of ISP XMission in Utah, addressed those arguments in the Salt Lake Tribune:

UTOPIA provides broadband service in 11 Utah cities. Today, communication infrastructure is no less critical than transportation, sanitation and clean water. Government is not a business, but the infrastructure it provides contributes to a robust business environment.

Consider how private businesses rely on government funded infrastructure. Why don’t entrepreneurs clamor to build the next generation of roads? Why don’t airline companies get off the public dole and build their own facilities? Why are sewer facilities so rarely handled by anyone else but the state?

Does effective infrastructure cost? Considerably. Does it make a profit? No.

For decades now, public service entities have contended with the argument that if they are "run it like a business" they will be more efficient, productive and even profitable. While lessons from the private sector may contribute to increased efficiency at times, government is NOT a business. Applying business tenets should be done sparingly and not in the case of critical infrastructure like electricity, roads, and yes, access to the Internet.

Gary D. Brown, who lives in Orem, shared a guest opinion through the Daily Herald and drew a similar parallel between UTOPIA's status and the business world:

When UTOPIA was first proposed, I was all for getting a fiber optic connection to every home and business in the at-that-time 17 cities. In my opinion, the original business model was sound; install fiber to each home/business and offer data,...

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Posted October 22, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

In 1881, Clara Barton started the American Red Cross as a way to offer relief to victims of disaster. Coordinating relief in the face of crisis will always be challenging, but now UTOPIA, the publicly owned, open access FTTH network in Utah, makes it easier and more economical. The change will allow the regional Red Cross to dedicate more funds to helping people, rather than for administrative costs.

The Murray, Utah, Blood Services location is now using an in-house video conferencing system with bandwidth supplied by UTOPIA. From the UTOPIA blog:

“The UTOPIA network definitely has the bandwidth and reliability we need for video conferencing,” says Travis Weaver, Technical Support Analyst at the American Red Cross. “UTOPIA has made in-house video conferencing possible for us. This switch saves us money because doing it in-house is cheaper than paying for the service and it allows for long distance, face-to-face meetings without the cost of travel.”

Weaver also considers the open access an added benefit. The organization is able to work with one of their current providers, easing billing and negotiation. The organization clearly appreciates UTOPIA's presence:

Weaver feels the infrastructure UTOPIA provides is critical. “I believe in the need to continually invest in the communications infrastructure of our municipalities,” he says. “Failure to do so will not let us keep pace with the rapidly accelerating network communications global community. Having access to UTOPIA in Murray City has certainly opened up our capacity to meet the communication needs of our organization by using leading-edge technology.”

 

Posted August 3, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

Just this week, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General of the State of Utah released a report to the Utah Legislature on UTOPIA. The report, titled A Performance Audit of the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency rehashes prior criticisms of UTOPIA and tells the abridged story of the Auditor's understanding of UTOPIA's financial troubles.

While one can accept the report as truthful, it certainly is not comprehensive. Jesse Harris, of FreeUTOPIA notes that leaving out certain pieces of information taint the presumed impartiality of the report. From Jesse:

The Legislative Auditor General has published an audit of UTOPIA, and, as expected, it drags a fair amount of ancient history back into the spotlight.  The report concludes that additional accountability will alleviate the problems that UTOPIA has experienced, but it missed the mark on a number of points.

The Audit Scope and Objectives are spelled out in the beginning as:

Members of the Utah Legislature asked for an audit of UTOPIA so residents of UTOPIA member cities might know how the organization has used its funds. Legislators also asked for a review the organization’s general management practices. To address their concerns, we developed an audit plan to review the following areas:

  • The size and use of UTOPIA’s debt financing
  • The causes leading to UTOPIA’s current financial 
condition
  • UTOPIA’s management and board governance practices

While there are many bar graphs, pie charts, and dollar signs in the report and it seems to meet the scope and objectives, financial information alone does not explain UTOPIA's troubles. The first place to look is close to home.

From the beginning, UTOPIA has had to overcome difficult odds in a hostile legislative environment. As we note on our Community Broadband Map, the State of Utah effectively requires that community networks function as wholesale-only. The mandate puts them at a significant financial disadvantage from the beginning, severely limiting the amount of revenue they can collect...

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Posted July 13, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Fresno's loss will be Provo's gain. Why? Because Provo built its own network and can meet the modern telecommunications needs of businesses. A company is moving from Clovis, in Fresno County (California), to Provo, Utah. The Business Journal covered the story:

Clovis-based Secure Customer Relations, Inc., plans to move its entire operation to Provo, Utah this month, resulting in the loss of 98 jobs.

...

Secure Customer Relations operates a call center that specializes in appointment setting, client prospecting and other functions on behalf of the insurance industry.

Overall, the cost of operations in Provo would be a savings over Clovis, Carter said, including labor costs. He added that Clovis does not have the same level of fiber optic infrastructure as Provo.

Interestingly, Clovis is slated to get better access to broadband as part of the stimulus-funded Central Valley Next-Generation Broadband Infrastructure Project. Unfortunately, that is one of them any middle mile projects that will connect community anchors but not offer any immediate benefits to local businesses and residents. It is a middle mile project, not a last-mile project that would build a fiber-optic access network like Provo has connecting everyone.

This is not to demean the middle-mile project, but such things are often misunderstood (sometimes due to deliberate obfuscations by those promoting them).

And speaking of obfuscation, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah apparently wants the Utah state government to take credit for this company moving to Provo.

"We move a lot of data and need high capacity," CEO Carter Beck told the Journal last week. His company specializes in appointment setting, client prospecting and other functions on behalf of the insurance industry.

The relocation of companies like Secure Customer Relations, Inc. to Utah reaffirms the conclusions of a Utah Broadband Advisory Council Report released last week by the Utah Broadband Project and the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) -- that...

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Posted July 10, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

For the third Community Broadband Bits podcast, we decided to do a double interview, perhaps making up for skipping last week due to our Independence Day holiday. In this show, we talk with Todd Marriott from the UTOPIA open access network in Utah. The second interview is with a provider on the network: Pete Ashdown, the founder of XMission.

The UTOPIA web site is here. If you want to learn more about UTOPIA, an excellent site is Free UTOPIA, run by Jesse Harris. And Pete Ashdown writes about broadband issues at Transmission.Xmission.com.

We continue to be interested in your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is twenty minutes long and can be played below on this page or you can subscribe via iTunes or via a different tool using this feed. You can download the Mp3 directly from here.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music.

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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