Tag: "utah"

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...

Read more
Posted December 12, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Brendan Greeley and Alison Fitzgerald have authored an in-depth exposé of the role the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) played in passing a law in Louisiana designed to cripple community-owned networks ... while falsely claiming the bill was about creating a "level playing field."

This article may not have been possible without the work done by the ALEC Exposed folks at the Center for Media and Democracy.

The aptly-titled "Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law?" article starts with the background of one of our favorite community broadband champions: Joey Durel, the Republican City-Parish President of Lafayette, Louisiana.

In April of 2004, Lafayette announced their intention to do a market survey to get a sense of whether the community would be interested in a publicly owned FTTH network run by the public utility. By that point, it was not possible to introduce new bills at the Louisiana Legislature. Or at least, that is a technicality when it comes to the lobbying prowess of big cable and telephone companies (mainly Cox and BellSouth - one of the major companies that later became AT&T).

Worried about losing their de facto monopolies, they tapped State Senator Winnsboro to take an existing bill, delete all the words from it and then append their anti-community broadband (anti-competitive) language.

The lobbyist brought back to Lafayette a copy of what would become Senate Bill 877. It named telecommunications as a permitted city utility, then hamstrung municipalities with a list of conditions. It demanded that new projects show positive revenue within the first year. It required a city to calculate and charge itself taxes, as if it were a private company. Cities could not borrow startup costs or secure bonds from any other sources of income. The bill demanded unrealistic accounting arrangements, and it suggested a referendum that would have to pass with an absolute majority. It also, almost word for word, matched a piece of legislation kept in the library of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The council’s bill reads, “The people of the State of _______ do enact as follows … ”

According to Ellington, he substituted the bill after a lobbyist for several of the state’s cable companies approached him, concerned about Lafayette’s project....

Read more
Posted October 24, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Jesse Harris, of the excellent Free UTOPIA blog, gave a presentation explaining broadband network concepts and definitions without technical jargon.  He also offered a history and recent events update about iProvo in a special meeting.  If you want to learn more about the group sponsoring the event, this is apparently the best place to check in.

iProvo was a muni fiber network that was hobbled by the Comcast and Qwest-controlled Utah Legislature.  After years of struggling in the face of unique barriers only aimed at publicly owned networks,  the local government decided to privatize the network.  Unfortunately, the private partner has not succeeded either, leaving Provo with a difficult decision ahead.  

Jesse explains some of the history in this short presentation and then takes some excellent questions from the audience.  Those of us familiar with different types of broadband technology may skip ahead to the part specifically about iProvo.  

Well done, Jesse.  

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...

Read more
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.

Pages

Subscribe to utah