I'm just starting on my journey to get the legislature to hear about the restrictions on UTOPIA, but there is already good progress. I've submitted some brief comments as a synopsis of why we need UTOPIA and why it is critical for us to expand it to unincorporated areas. Below are the comments I have submitted for the co-chairs of the Utah Technology Commission to review.
My name is Jesse Harris, and I'm an IT professional living in White City. Not long after moving into my home, I heard about the UTOPIA project and was very excited to see that I could not only receive a significantly faster Internet connection through one of its providers, but also switch my television service and save a substantial amount of money, well over $40 a month. I was quite dismayed to find out that unincorporated areas such as White City are restricting from participating by the Municipal Cable Television and Public Telecommunications Services Act. This leaves over 180,000 Utahns in Salt Lake County alone ineligible to even choose if they do or do not want to participate.
As an IT professional, I know how critical telecommunications infrastructure is to the new information-based economy. Utah's technology sector depends on inexpensive high-speed connections to maintain a competitive edge, especially as USTAR attempts to attract new biotechnology and research companies.
Unfortunately, our incumbent communications providers have proven themselves not up to the task of providing next-generation speeds at reasonable prices. As a part of the federal telecommunications act passed in 1996, the telecommunications industry received almost $200B in tax breaks and increased fees in exchange for a promise to build a 45Mbps fiber network to reach 86% of American households. Ten years later, we have speeds that are barely 15% of what was promised and we are losing our competitive edge in communications networks to countries like Korea, Japan, and even New Zealand.
These companies have also worked to setup barriers to new competitors and further enrich themselves on even higher fees for their inferior services by suing competing services and attempting to bypass serving smaller communities properly via state-wide franchising. Because of these expensive broken promises and patently anti-competitive behaviors, these companies have proven that the trust given to them as monopoly holders has been ill-placed.
UTOPIA can and has been correcting this. It provides a world-class and expandable network for a significantly lower cost than is being planned by either Comcast or Qwest and all of the services are offered by private companies including AT&T and XMission. UTOPIA provides the perfect model for new competition by following the same model as our nation's air transportation industry: government builds the infrastructure and leases it out to private competitors to recover the costs of construction. Already Comcast and Qwest have been forced to offer speeds and pricing more in line with their broken promises of a decade ago.
A hundred years ago, the boomtown of Corpus Christi passed on public financing of a railroad spur, leaving it to pass through the sleepy village of Houston. Fifty years ago, communities everywhere passed on having the new Interstate system come through their town to become virtual ghost towns within decades. Today, are we going to allow the information superhighway to bypass communities all over Utah through the fear, uncertainty, and doubt spread by the telecommunications lobby? I sincerely hope not. Let's end the patchwork of ineligible areas by allowing counties to participate in this necessary public infrastructure.