This is just… I don't know. Go read the Heartland Institute's latest assault on municipal fiber projects to see for yourself. As someone who was at the same meeting that Mr. Titch attended, I find myself wondering how the two of us walked away with such different versions of the same story. It's time to set the record straight since truth is not on Mr. Titch's side.
The core of this latest tripe is centered on UTOPIA's buildout strategy. While it's true that questions came up about "green fields" and construction in non-pledging cities, both issues were resolved and addressed by the end of the meeting to the satisfaction of the committee members. Titch characterizes it as an unresolved issue and uses only half of the story to indirectly accuse UTOPIA of doing things that they testified before the committee that they were not doing.
Here are the facts. Construction in newer sub-developments has been at the insistence of builders and entirely paid for by those builders. In other words, zero tax dollars went into the construction and there is no debt service on that portion of the network. Isn't that a Good Thing™? UTOPIA's commitment to pledging cities is to not use tax-backed bond money to build outside of pledging cities and they have done just that. Far from Titch's wildly inaccurate assertions, UTOPIA has been a model of transparency and openness and has followed its commitments to cities to the letter.
The issue of universal access for non-pledging cities was also resolved during the meeting. Titch again twists the words of Sen. Stephenson to insinuate that UTOPIA would be abandoning its mission for universal access. This is patently false and was addressed during the committee meeting. UTOPIA remains committed to rolling out service to every available home and business in all member cities starting with pledging members first and moving into non-pledging cities as funding permits. As opposed to proving any evidence of these wild claims, Mr. Titch seems to think that just making the statement and sticking to it somehow makes it true. Sorry, Steve-O, truth doesn't work that way.
Then we have the twisting of what service levels telcos can provide. UTOPIA mentioned in passing that the gigabit connections being offered to schools and hospitals could be provided by telcos. What got left out of Titch's version of events is that the gigabit for a school costs several hundred a month from UTOPIA and hundreds of thousands a month from a telco. Is anyone else noticing the pattern of selective omissions in this work? Either Titch is grossly incompetent or has chosen to lie the best way he can.
I can't yet comment on the RUS money because I don't have enough details yet. I don't know if it was a loan or a grant and I don't know if the RUS money was in lieu of or in addition to money already bonded for. I'm guessing that the numbers play out in UTOPIA's favor, but I won't know for sure without some answers from them. Watch this posts for some updates within the next few days.
Here's some free advice for The Heartland Institute. If you're going to hire a bunch of policy hacks that can be easily debunked by a blogger using public records, you should seriously re-evaluate your hiring practices. 'Cause dang. If you have to lie and distort to make your case, I'm guessing it's not all that strong.
UPDATE: Word from UTOPIA is that the RUS money is a loan. From the looks of the program, it's probably at a much lower rate than the bonds. This money is loaned against future revenues instead of being tax-backed like the bonds. There's no risk to the cities, the feds think UTOPIA will be paying them back and they're saving some money on interest. Again, this is a series of smart moves designed to make the project less risky and less expensive. How on earth can they be catching criticism for that?