How To Bring UTOPIA To Your City, the UIA Way

I had previously written about how to get UTOPIA where you live, but a lot has changed in the model since then. While the old model required you to convince the city to get on the hook for a significant chunk of change, the UIA model alleviates a lot of the risk. Many of the steps are the same, but the particulars are slightly different.

  • Put together a strong proposal to make your case. Make a brief 5 to 10 minute presentation that explains how the UIA works (see post here) and why joining would be beneficial, then summarize those remarks in a 3-4 paragraph letter. Brevity is key, so stick to the main points and be prepared for questions. It’s better to have your arguments together first and then find someone to present them to. Don’t know where to start? I’m happy to help.
  • Get organized. There’s strength in numbers, so make sure you start finding other people who want UTOPIA, especially in a concentrated area like a neighborhood or particular block. You’ll also want to get business owners and leaders on board since they often carry a disproportionate amount of weight in city government. If you want to lead an effort in your city, I’m happy to setup a subdomain (i.e. yourcity.freeutopia.org) for you to post on. You may also want to consider setting up a Facebook group or an email list (which I can also host).
  • Identify city council members who would be interested. Look for those with a background in technology, research, real estate, or construction. They’ve likely had to work with sending or receiving large amounts of data that took forever to finish or can best understand why UTOPIA matters. Make contact with those most likely to support membership in UTOPIA before presenting to the city council as a whole. Don’t forget the try the mayor’s office while you’re at it.
  • Ask for an agenda item at your next city council meeting. Believe it or not, you too can speak to the city council about whatever you want. Find out who’s in charge of city council agenda items in your city and ask them if you can do a presentation on UTOPIA. More often than not, you can get about 5-10 minutes to speak. I’ve managed to get a slot at a legislative committee hearing, so it’s not that big of a deal. Some cities hear about it so much that they limit any discussion on the matter. West Jordan, for example, will only have UTOPIA as an agenda item once a year. Find out when the last time was and try to plan appropriately.
  • Be ready for an intense Q&A session. The city council will hammer you with financial questions. Make sure you’ve prepared to explain that the UIA assesses all costs of network construction to those who sign up for service, that the city will need to issue a bond for the money, and that no money is released until there is enough demand in a compact area to cover all costs of the bond plus some of the shared network costs. A city may also need to conduct a feasibility study on their dime to determine if sufficient demand exists. Above all, don’t be afraid to defer questions to a UTOPIA representative if you don’t know the specifics. Some Q&A sessions can last a half hour or longer depending on the council.
  • Plan for follow-up presentations. Cities don’t jump into these things based on a single presentation no matter how slick it might be. Plan for future city council meetings as representatives from UTOPIA, Qwest/CenturyLink, Comcast, and the Utah Taxpayers Association may be invited. Make good use of the public comment periods and make sure as many supporters as possible do so as well.
  • Above all, thank the council for their time. They’re pretty busy folks who are sacrificing as much time as you are to hear what you have to say. You’re also asking them to put some money (and their future election prospects) on the line. They need to know what you appreciate their hard work and sacrifice.

Still getting stuck? Feel free to e-mail me for help. I’m glad to put together and even conduct presentations to help spread UTOPIA as far as possible. I can also put you in touch with some representatives at UTOPIA who are happy to give your council members a tour of the facilities and provide their own presentations.

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36 Responses to How To Bring UTOPIA To Your City, the UIA Way

  1. Pingback: How To Bring UTOPIA To Your City « Free UTOPIA!

  2. David Pace says:

    Hi

    I live in Draper in a condo community that shares a 4 meg line between 104 units. Comcast is not an available option and Quest/Century link are only able to provide a 1.5 meg line to our units. I would love to approach the city counsel to bring faster speeds to Draper but I am not too familiar on how to gather the information you have suggested above. Has anyone else already contacted you about getting Utopia into Draper?

    Thank you,

    David

  3. Carol says:

    I would love to participate in bringing Utopia to South Jordan, UT. I will be moving to where there is limited Internet coverage and this will highly impact my productivity. Anyone else interested in bringing this to South Jordan?? Please let me know.

  4. Jesse says:

    I’m not aware of much of a groundswell in either Draper or South Jordan. The most active people seem to be in Lehi, West Jordan, and Sandy.

  5. Carol says:

    Unfortunately I will be leaving Sandy. I’ll just hope that more South Jordan an Draper folks come out of the woodworks for Utopia. I foresee a sad, sad, Internet future with a 7mbs (if that) connection or worse, one from DirecTV or Hughes net. I currently have Comcast and hate to downgrade from 25mbs by that much. I work in IT, have a lot of devices on my network and also stream media frequently. We really should have Utopia in many more places by now, and I will support it wherever I can.

  6. Kelly Brown says:

    I am a resident of West Jordan. What can I do to help move this along?

    • Jesse says:

      The West Jordan city council allows UTOPIA to be brought up once a year as a courtesy. It’s kind of a tacit admission that 1) there’s a vocal groundswell of support and 2) the city would rather just ignore it. About the only way around that will be to talk to other people who want it and target one council member at a time. It takes ground game and time.

  7. Tuanis Che says:

    I have contacted one of the Utopia companies or 3 and they all say the same thing. We are 6 months from your neighborhood, so give us a call in 6 months. Six months pass and I call, the same response. Six months later I call and guess what the same response. The funny thing is the fiber line is 19 feet from my house, I measured it and guess what I can’t get it. Unless I pay a one time fee of $2700 to hook it up to my house. I would still have to pay the monthly fee to Utopia and the service provider. Meanwhile my local city council continues to approve more bond money to Utopia. So I continue to pay my taxes for a utility we are all being taxed on that we can never use.

    • Jesse says:

      Service providers aren’t always the best-equipped to provide estimates. It’s best to ask UTOPIA directly. They have an expanded customer service department to help handle those calls.

      If you’re being quoted a one-time fee for hookup without the option to spread it over 10 or 20 years, it’s likely that your member city isn’t participating in the UIA. Something to consider with the install fee is that you can get a 50M/50M connection for just $35 per month once that’s paid. If you finance over 20 years, the total monthly cost is about a wash with what it has been. UTOPIA simply does not have the money to extend the network and hook up more homes which is why they have to, in one form or another, place the burden back on subscribers. The upside is that non-subscribers don’t have to pay to expand and extend the network.

  8. Jason says:

    Come on South Jordan!!! Anyone want to get organized and get fiber to beautiful South Jordan??? Let me know

    • SoJoSoulja says:

      I am more than glad to join you. South Jordan would double their tax revenue with all the new commercial buildings they have now and all the sales from the Auto Mall. If there is a good pitch they would be stupid to deny it.

  9. Chris says:

    So I live in Orem, I watched them dig up the road a block and a half away but when I contact UTOPIA to find out if service will be coming soon I am told I am out of luck. What gives? My brother in Lindon has had the service for years and yet I am stuck drooling at lines only a block and a half away.

    • Jesse says:

      I’ve heard that the NE part of Orem has soil that is less-than-conducive to trenching. Installation costs there are about triple where they would be elsewhere. UTOPIA has been working on a way to pair up those areas with less-expensive neighboring footprints to try and spread the costs and make deployment viable.

  10. Jan Peterson says:

    I actually live in Murray, a tier one Utopia city, but can’t get it because they deployed everywhere *but* my neighborhood. I’ve been asking Utopia for about seven years now when it might come to my neighborhood but keep getting the runaround. “Oh, you’re on the list for *next* year… oh, wait, we got some funding to bring it to some other community first, so even though you live in a tier one city, one of the first to deploy, you still can’t get it.” I’d just like a straight answer from someone on the inside… will my neighborhood *ever* get Utopia services?

    • Jesse says:

      Yeah, it’s a real PITA. The RUS money was specifically earmarked for cities that qualified as rural, so they had to put their focus there to spend that money. As those areas wrap up this summer, the focus will move to UIA cities to start expansion into new neighborhoods. Since Murray is already pretty substantially connected (62% of the city can get it), it should make it cheaper and easier to mop up.

  11. Blake says:

    I’m totally in favor of giving Google Fiber a few years to take off and make its way out here.

    • Jesse says:

      That’s wishful thinking at best. Google hasn’t expressed any plans to expand their efforts after they finish with Kansas City, and few (if any) cities in Utah are going to provide the kind of environment they are looking for. Specifically, they want cities where the city itself controls right-of-way so that they can deploy quickly. In most cities, the right of way is controlled by CenturyLink, Comcast, or Rocky Mountain Power. Lehi’s plan to keep on wishing for Google Fiber is like hoping you find a golden ticket without buying a single Wonka Bar.

  12. Chris says:

    Has there been any groundswell in unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County? I’m in Millcreek Community Township, a few blocks from Murray, and have been wanting UTOPIA for about 5yrs.

    • Jesse says:

      There really isn’t any. The unincorporated areas would have a tough time convincing the county to back any bonds to hook up those areas, especially when county spending is such a hot-button issue right now. I feel that pain myself; I live in White City and am unlikely to see UTOPIA in my neighborhood.

      • Chris says:

        And furthermore, I got the following from the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office:

        “The legislation authorizing the formation of UTOPIA allows for cities to join the network, however, county governments are currently restricted from doing so. It is possible that the Legislature will grant counties the opportunity to participate in at some point in the future. It is also important to note that participating in UTOPIA requires a very significant investment of taxpayer dollars. Being that a recent legislative audit determined that UTOPIA is currently valued at negative $120 million, any local government considering joining UTOPIA would have to carefully weigh both the potential benefits and risks of participating.”

        My County Councilperson echoed the same message that:

        1) Counties can’t, and 2) Not until UTOPIA’s house is in order and they have resolved their financial woes.

        • Jesse says:

          The “counties can’t” argument is from a surface reading of state code. It would still be possible for an area to join via a special assessment area (SAA), though I don’t know how the grant of right-of-way would work. I think it’s a hard sell to get any new cities (or a county) on board until UTOPIA has a large and definitive “win”. That might not come until the conclusion of the UIA plan in 3-ish years.

          Something else to bear in mind is that this upcoming election could end up pushing towards wall-to-wall cities. The Republican side generally favors this approach so that it no longer has to worry about municipal services (currently 20% of the county budget). A newly incorporated city wouldn’t have to deal with the legal wrangling over the wording of state code, but my experience is that most newly-incorporated cities have to raise taxes significantly to upgrade other infrastructure (street lights, sidewalks, etc.). There would probably be little appetite (or, in some cases, ability) to bond for more money even if it is guaranteed by subscribers and not the taxpayers as a whole.

  13. Nathan says:

    I just recently moved to Orem just south of Vineyard Elementary School. I previously lived in Provo and had their fiber services so I was hoping that I could get Utopia. Turns out my new neighborhood isn’t hooked up yet. I know there is Utopia fiber to the south-west of me (about 2 blocks) and to the north of me (about 1 block). “So close, yet so far away” comes to mind.

    My current ISP options

    Comcast – Nope, not yet. They have their ugly conduit sticking out of my front yard though.

    CenturyLink – At BEST a 1.5mbps link, no thank you.

    Clear – 3mbps via wireless? I’ll pass.

    Digis – 15mbps via wireless – I felt this was my best choice. I have clear line of sight to the tower so I have a good solid 15mbps connection. However, they limit your data transfer big time DAILY. The first infringement they drop my speeds from 15 to 7, then from 7 to 3! Every day! At least it is month to month so I can cancel it when the time comes.

    My whole home is wired gigabit rated (cat 6) ethernet and I don’t think they even use less than cat5e in new construction these days. Why is the Network Service Provider the one causing the bottleneck?

    • Jesse says:

      This is what a lot of UTOPIA critics don’t really get. There are many MANY urbanized areas that do not have wired broadband service. That DSL line isn’t legally broadband (4Mbps down, 1Mbps up), and neither is Clear. Digis’ throttling and capping is so punitive and restrictive that anyone actually using their connection will barely legally have a broadband connection just by watching a couple of movies. We keep getting told that the “free” market is delivering, but your case proves there are many cases where it simply does not.

      The simple reality is that your neighborhood apparently just isn’t cost-effective to deploy to as far as Comcast and CenturyLink are concerned. There’s no price at which they’ll deploy service either, a reality that cities like Lindon and Brigham City discovered when they tried to get the incumbents to improve broadband service. This broadband black hole is why UTOPIA exists, and it may be a good argument for getting your neighbors to register their interest for service.

  14. Sam says:

    Are there any groups in SLC that support bringing UTOPIA into the city?

    • Jesse says:

      There’s a lot of individuals I’ve talked to that are interested, but I don’t think there’s any kind of formal organization. Your best bet is to be the person that starts said group (and I’d be happy to publicize it). Mayor Becker is more open than Mayor Anderson, but he still has reservations about costs.

  15. Earl Gray says:

    Our son has Brent has UTOPIA, and he is very happy with the data; therefore, desires that father Earl have it.

  16. Mike says:

    Hey Jesse, have you heard anything about Logan city making any efforts to look into UTOPIA membership at all? I’ve looked through the city council minutes, and the only mention of fiber is to do with city-ran infrastructures such as power plants, government buildings and parks.

    It’s a bit surprising to me, based on what I’ve found, that UTOPIA hasn’t even been mentioned in any meetings. I know it’s not a very popular idea, but I think it’d be amazing if a college town like Logan could have FTTH.

    • Jesse says:

      I’ve heard from a person or two in Logan, but I’m not aware of any efforts by the city there to consider fiber infrastructure. If they’re considering doing rings to hook up city buildings, that could lay a solid groundwork for extending it to end users. Provo took that approach to build out iProvo, using a federal grant for traffic monitoring to build the initial fiber rings.

  17. dan says:

    Is there a group in Taylorsville to get UTOPIA? I would love that service.

  18. I’m looking at moving out of West Jordan (partly because of the lack of Utopia Enthusiasm in the city council). I’m curious about Riverton. I understand they are a Utopia city however nothing has been built. Any idea when they might consider building?

    I’m emailing their Mayor asking this question as well. I’m hoping to move into a Utopia City or one that has near future plans to join.

    thanks!

    • Jesse says:

      As a non-pledging city, they’re at the end of the build-out list. In SL County, you’d need to look at Midvale, Murray, or West Valley City.

    • Matthew says:

      They would build the network as soon soon the pledging cities start making money….

      The advertising of the benefits of Utopia over the the incumbents has been nothing but pitiful the last 10 years! Veracity doesn’t advertise, xmission doesn’t advertise, infowest..Utopia doesn’t.

      All these providers, Utopia, and cities need to start advertising their network. Start mailing every single resident in their a cities a free pricing list for installation, services, and compare that to their competitors.

      This is the problem with city run vs private sector. The city is not in the business to know how to compete and sell their network.

  19. I’m really trying to get people in Eagle Mountain onboard with wanting to join UTOPIA. So far people are too concerned about it being “run by the government.” I don’t know how to convince them that UTOPIA is a great thing. We already have FttH in a lot of the city. But the fiber is all privately owned by a less than-reputable private company.

  20. Dave Pettingill says:

    Read today’s article BY Jesse Harris n the Salt Lake Tribune. What a bunch of bunk, let’s saddle the Tax Payers and residents of the UTOPIA Cities with even more costs. If this deal is so good and UTOPIA is so awesome, let Macquarie Capitol pay for it and realize the return on their investment.

    How stupid do you think we are, stressing that UTOPIA will cause Comcast and CenturyLink to lower their prices, that just means more people will go with them and leave UTOPIA in the dust. What a crock we were handed several years ago, get the Government into private ventures, boy it has really turned out well!! I would like to be spending Murray’s Money on schools and libraries, and roads not filling the pockets of whoever it was that pushed this through!!

    DON’T RAISE MY UTILITY BILL FOR SOMETHING I DON’T USE AND DON’T WANT TO USE!!

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