Tag: "utopia"

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 July 9, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

A new book from Michael J Sandel asks, "What Isn't for Sale?" At least, that was the title of his article in the April Atlantic Monthly. The book is actually titled What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and you can find it at your local bookstore.

Broadband policy often deals with the term "market." Given the strong natural-monopoly characteristics of broadband networks, we generally make two points.

1) The private sector will not create a competitive market for Internet services absent smart government policies. Private companies consolidate, gain scale advantages, and crush the competition absent at least strong antitrust policies.

2) We can have a market for broadband services if we separate the physical infrastructure from the services. In this scenario, a network owner would not be allowed to offer services directly to end users. Independent service providers would use the network (under equal terms) to offer services to businesses and residents. This is the wholesale-only model (most associated with UTOPIA) and the closest examples in other infrastructure is the streets or airports. However, federal policymakers are too beholden to big corporate interests to pursue these policies; if a community wants an open access broadband market, it has to build its own network.

Nevertheless, Sandel's discussion of markets and the insistence of some that markets can solve everything struck a cord with me. I'm a big believer in functioning markets -- which is why we work so hard to help communities that are stuck with only one or two distant corporations controlling all the broadband infrastructure. The refusal of big carriers to invest in communities skews many of the markets within those communities.

So we are careful when we talk about markets. Given present technology, both wired and wireless, it is foolish to believe markets alone can solve our broadband problem. Which is what brings me back to Sandel's article in the Atlanic:

The great missing debate in contemporary politics is about the role and reach of markets. Do we want a market economy, or a market society? What role should markets play in public life and personal relations? How can we decide...

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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.

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