Letter to the Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee: November 6, 2007

I wrote the following letter to all members of the Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee to express my disapproval at the proposals brought forth at their last meeting.

Good Evening Members of the Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee;

I write to you on the eve of your next meeting with grave concern and strong reservations regarding some of the legislation proposed at your last meeting on October 25. After a lot of careful consideration and research, I do not believe any of them to be necessary at all.

The first proposal is to prohibit new non-pledging members from joining UTOPIA. Non-pledging cities currently do not cause any cost to pledging cities. In fact, that's the trade-off for an unwillingness to engage in financial risk: the project must succeed and start producing positive revenue before they will see any construction. As UTOPIA members have clarified time and time again, not one cent of the pledging cities' money has been expended in a non-pledging city or area. It would seem, then, that prohibiting this status does not actually solve any problems, but would rather stunt the ability of new cities to be able to join the project without additional risk. In short, it increases, not decreases the total risk. Because of this, I cannot fathom what problem this solution is intended to resolve. Perhaps the Subcommittee would be so kind as to inform me.

The second proposal is equally ineffective and unnecessary. As proposed, it would prohibit adding any new members until pledging cities have a completed build-out. This, however, is already built into the charter for UTOPIA. It also seems unlikely that the pledging membership would incur additional risk in order to spread the project to other cities. As planned, UTOPIA plans to complete its build-out in pledging cities by late summer of 2008, about the time this legislation would take effect. It hasn't planned to build in non-pledging cities until it goes revenue-positive, currently projected for 2012. Given all of this, such a measure does not appear to protect pledging cities in any fashion. My fear is that an inability to install UTOPIA services in muli-unit dwellings due to either existing contracts with incumbent service providers (which have been invalidated by the FCC as of last Wednesday) or the decline of the property owner could be mis-construed as not fulfilling the build-out requirements. If this were the case, a single hold-out could delay deployment in nearly half a dozen other cities. The potential for abuse and lack of a clear benefit makes this proposal untenable. Again, I have failed to see what problem this would address.

The third and final proposal is probably the most onerous of all. In addition to requiring a vote of the residents of a prospective member city, it would also require that every existing member city have its residents approve the new member as well. This exceeds bad legislation and, pardon my candor, approaches sheer lunacy. Since when should residents of Murray be able to vote on an issue affecting South Jordan? It seems quite bizarre and very inconsistent given the recent actions concerning school district splits that have sought to exclude other cities from being able to weigh in on the issue. The additional costs involved in such elections could compel existing member cities to deny membership based entirely on costs. In short, it turns UTOPIA into some kind of exclusive private club with little hope of any expansion whatsoever. The entire proposal smacks of protectionism of existing incumbents. I could potentially see that putting the city at any kind of financial risk should involve a vote of residents of the prospective member, but this over-reaches on such a level that I simply cannot comprehend it. Again, I see a solution in search of a problem.

In all of this, we have an over-arching theme: there is no clearly stated problem to be addressed, there is no finding of fact establishing a problem. In fact, the only organizations claiming that there is a problem have been The Heartland Institute (previously debunked as having distorted the truth), Comcast, Qwest (a previous litigant) and the Utah Taxpayers Association. Consider that no member of the general public has appeared at your hearings to support these organizations, yet plenty of private citizens have appeared at the hearings to announce support of UTOPIA. Local businesses have spoken in support of UTOPIA. This is a stark contrast to the well-financed anti-UTOPIA lobby.

I can understand and appreciate your concern to insulate cities and taxpayers from financial risk. Good parents also do the same thing. However, I believe that you need to let the cities succeed or fail on their own. If they succeed, then good for them! If they fail, it will be a well-learned lesson not easily blamed on the meddling of the legislature in their own affairs. Trust the cities and the voters to make good decisions on their own and you might be surprised how well they do.

I did not intend this to be such a long missive, but I do feel very strongly on this issue and feel that it deserves appropriate consideration. I appreciate your time both in reading this letter and serving the public through your membership in the legislature.

Thank you.

Jesse Harris
http://<personal website>/

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