Steve Turley Blows Smoke on iProvo and UTOPIA

Long-time readers of this blog (or those paying attention to iProvo) will recognize the name of Steve Turley. As a member of Provo’s municipal council, he’s been a consistent voice of opposition on all things iProvo since as far back as anyone can remember. You may even recall the recent series of articles in the Daily Herald bringing light to some shady-looking real estate deals and resulting lawsuits that he’s involved in. Today, he had an op-ed in the Deseret News calling on UTOPIA cities to follow Provo’s lead and dump their fiber network. Unfortunately, it would appear that Councilman Turley is about as knowledgeable as he appears ethical.

The biggest surprise is that Turley claimed the sale of iProvo is a success, this in spite of voting against both the sale to Broadweave and Veracity’s subsequent takeover of Broadweave. I have a hard time swallowing Turley’s characterization given that Broadweave spent sixteen months doing a terrible job at running the network (just like I said they would) before Veracity stepped in to save their hide. Even so, Provo had to loan out more money to Veracity to make the deal work. Veracity has done a superb job at turning around operations, but they have also had to cross-subsidize the network from their other operations and may continue to do so for several years. The reality is that this is the best the council could come up with since they did not have the stomach to do what was necessary to run the network successfully as a city department. It is absolutely absurd that Turley thinks he could vote against these outcomes and still be able to claim responsibility for them.

There’s also the wildly inaccurate claim that Provo solicited bids to buy the network. That’s absolutely and patently false. (I’d go so far as to call it utter bulls–t, much like the rest of his arguments.) The sale of the network came as a total surprise to the general public, service providers, industry watchers, and even the entire municipal council. The Mayor himself, the architect of the Broadweave deal, was adamant that a sale wasn’t on the table up until a couple of months before unveiling it. This was during the time that Billings and Broadweave were busy negotiating the terms of the deal. There was no clear RFP for bids, no public bidding process, and a very short period in which to review the terms of the deal. Does that sound like hanging a “For Sale” sign to you.

Turley has also wildly distorted the cost of building iProvo. Most of the main fiber optic rings were built many years before iProvo was even proposed. (I’d say planned, but I’m sure Mayor Billings knew what he was doing the whole time.) Those rings were paid for with federal grants so that the city could monitor traffic and improve air quality. That backbone certainly didn’t come cheap and should be included in the cost of expanding the network to include service to city residents. The $39M figure also does not include the shared cost of the video headend built jointly with UTOPIA. These items could easily add $10M or more to the total cost of the network, something that Turley has intentionally chosen to ignore.

Of course, these are just the factual problems with what he has written; I haven’t even made it to his faulty conclusions yet. Based on the “evidence” Steve Turley has presented, he thinks that UTOPIA cities should follow Provo’s lead and find a private company to buy the network. Unfortunately, that’s ignoring the marketable reality of the network. iProvo is a fully-built network covering an entire municipality. By the last publicly available figures, the network should have had little trouble being self-sufficient with some modest increases in take rates and small rate increases (not to mention better accounting practices). That makes it a very attractive target for acquisition, especially since the network was ready to roll.

UTOPIA, on the other hand, has patchy coverage and needs a lot of significant investment to cover its intended service areas. It’s main asset is the fiber running from Portland to Las Vegas, but even that isn’t valued at enough to pay off the current debts. UTOPIA cities, if they sold today, would still be making most of the payments and getting nothing in return for it. Provo, on the other hand, got someone else to assume the full debt load while walking away from it. Do these sound like similar situations to you? Me neither.

He also characterizes the new $60M bond proposal as additional system debt, just like the Utah “Taxpayers” Association has been doing. This, again, flies in the face of reality. The entirety of the $60M bond would be paid for by system subscribers, not the cities or UTOPIA. Claiming that signing on to this plan creates an additional burden systemwide is uninformed drivel.

In summation, Steve Turley knows about as much about municipal broadband now as he did two years ago. Unfortunately, that knowledge wouldn’t fill a thimble. Councilman, do us all a favor and go back to your home planet. Maybe they’ll be more accepting of your Reality Distortion Field.

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