The following letter to the editor was submitted to the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Daily Herald, Ogden Standard-Examiner, and Davis County Clipper. It was published in the Clipper and an abbreviated version is currently slated to appear in the Tribune.
UPDATE: Here’s the letter published in the Tribune.
Whenever there is criticism leveled towards UTOPIA, you will usually find the Utah Taxpayers Association screaming the loudest. The irony is that they are one of the least-qualified to criticize UTOPIA or make any commentary on telecommunications policy.
For starters, they deny that there is a serious telecommunications problem in our nation. The United States has been slipping in OCED rankings of broadband speeds, availability, and pricing for over a decade, now surpassed by Latvia, a former Soviet Bloc country, in all of those metrics. The telecommunications sector regularly gets some of the worst rankings in the quarterly American Consumer Satisfaction Index. Comcast only recently “lost” last place to Charter Communications in the cable category, a company that has declared bankruptcy in the midst of poor technical and customer service. To deny there is a problem is to deny reality.
The UTA is also very selective about what kinds of “unfair competition” they choose to speak out on. They make a lot of noise about using tax dollars to fund telecommunications systems and bemoan that such entities do not pay franchise fees or property taxes. You will not, however, hear equal outrage about the abuses of the Universal Service Fund by incumbent telephone carriers, the numerous equipment depreciation tax benefits enjoyed by Qwest, or the onerous build-out requirements imposed by cities at the behest of Comcast. Apparently the UTA is okay with private companies getting lots of government benefits, but not with government doing it on its own.
None of this should be too surprising as the UTA acknowledges that Qwest and Comcast are dues-paying members. Despite being asked, UTA representatives refuse to disclose just how much of their operation is funded by these UTOPIA foes nor the level of input they have in editorial content. For all we know, the UTA is a de facto front for doing the dirty work of incumbents.
This is probably why the UTA will not and cannot provide any concrete proposed solutions of its own. Whenever asked, the best they can come up with is a vague “let the free market reign”. I’m sorry, UTA, but there is no free market. We have a government-sanctioned and supported system of incumbent protection that fleeces taxpayers, stifles competition, and discourages network investment. You are no friend to the taxpayer, and you are completely unqualified and non-credible in these matters.
Jesse Harris is a software implementer in Sandy. He writes in support of municipal telecommunictions at FreeUTOPIA.org.