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.