For years, the Utah Taxpayers Association has been concern trolling over UTOPIA, conveniently avoiding any kind of real confrontation or public forum where they can be called on it. They censor or remove comments from their website that don’t support their position, they whip the press into a frenzy with fantastic and inaccurate claims, and they regularly go almost entirely unchallenged when they openly lie on behalf of their clients Qwest and Comcast. They’re the poster child for lobbyists run amok.
To that end, I’m issuing an open challenge to the Utah Taxpayers Association. You find your best guy, name a time and place, and we’ll have the knock-down, drag-out debate over UTOPIA that you’ve been avoiding for years. I know you’re reading and I know you’ll see this. I also know you’re probably too chicken to accept the challenge or risk getting your nose bloodied in a public forum. I’m extending it anyway to give you the opportunity to prove me wrong.
So bring it. I’m ready.
A critical component of convincing Google that their fiber optic build should be located in the Beehive State is participation not just from you and me, but also from elected officials. While it will be obvious that you should contact your city council members and mayor, have you also considered contacting your state legislators? Here’s what I wrote to Sen. Niederhauser and Rep. Beck:
Greetings Sen. Niederhauser and Rep. Beck;
As you may have heard, Google has offered to build a fiber optic network similar to UTOPIA designed to reach from 50,000 to 500,000 households. They are currently accepting proposals from municipalities and individuals in order to determine where they should build. The website with additional information and links to the applications is available here: http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/
It would be absolutely incredible if Google decided to come to Utah to partner with or compliment UTOPIA’s efforts to improve our state’s critical telecommunications infrastructure. It would bring significant investment into the state and thousands of new jobs. I know you both likely have your hands full during this legislative session, but it would be very helpful if either or both of you would sponsor a resolution in favor of Google’s participation in our state and/or pass this along to the appropriate agencies within the executive branch. Google is only accepting proposals and nominations through March 26, so time is of the essence.
Thank you for your time and consideration. If you have questions about telecommunications or what Google is doing, please feel free to call or e-mail me.
While legislators are very busy people, especially as they consider how to balance the state budget, it can’t hurt to sent a short and concise e-mail urging them to adopt and pass such a simple resolution. If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can find out from the Utah Legislature website. You can also consider contacting your county government officials as well; the more support, the better!
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.
Geoff Daily recently took BTOP out to the woodshed over its glacial pace, poor oversight, and severe underfunding. Today, I got some personal confirmation that BTOP is likely entirely broken and won’t accomplish much, at least not on this first round.
Way back on September 17, I sent the following e-mail:
I’m curious to know what state entity will be responsible for reviewing BTOP
applicants and applications, specifically in the state of Utah. Please
Just today, I get the following response:
Thank you for your interest in Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP). The BTOP application process encourages collaboration with the states in order to identify and fund the best possible broadband projects in America. A representative from a state may contact an applicant to request additional information contained in the application because of the state’s interest in making a recommendation to NTIA. Promptly replying to a state’s request allows the representative to carefully consider applications before commenting to NTIA. As a reminder, all Round 1 grant awardees will be determined by the end of the year.
Again, we appreciate your interest in the BTOP program to help bridge the technological divide and create jobs by expanding access to broadband throughout the nation.
There’s a few very glaring problems with what just happened here.
- The response is a canned form letter with no relevance whatsoever to the question asked.
- The response came 5 weeks after the original e-mail was sent.
- There is no longer an opportunity to communicate with the relevant persons at the state level because the deadline for their review has now passed.
Is this really the best that the NTIA can do? If so, I doubt we’re going to see any kind of meaningful federal effort to improve telecommunications infrastructure in this country.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
UTOPIA Executive Director Todd Marriott has announced the formation of the UTOPIA Citizens Advisory Network (U-CAN) to help provide feedback from the public on the direction UTOPIA is going. Jesse Harris, a local activist who runs FreeUTOPIA.org, has been selected to chair the new group. Harris has spent significant time and effort following developments related to UTOPIA since September of 2006. “Our goal is to help spread the word about UTOPIA and provide ideas on how the network can improve,” he said. He continued: “I’m very excited to bring the community of municipal telecommunications supporters together so that we can help make this network succeed.”
U-CAN plans to hold its first meeting on Saturday June 28 from noon until 1:30PM at the Ruth Vine Tyler Library, 8041 S Wood Street in Midvale. A representative from UTOPIA will be on hand to answer questions from meeting attendees. Regular monthly meetings will be scheduled across the Wasatch Front to give residents of all member cities an equal chance to participate.
About UTOPIA: UTOPIA is a consortium of 16 Utah cities that provides a next-generation fiber optic network for providers of telecommunications services and provides some of the fastest Internet speeds in the nation. It promotes a competitive marketplace by allowing smaller private companies to lease the network and provide services to residents within its service area and is open to allowing new providers and services on the network.
About Jesse Harris: Mr. Harris is an IT professional from White City Township and activist for municipal fiber optic networks. He has been blogging about municipal fiber optic projects and telecommunications at FreeUTOPIA.org since September of 2006. He is a recognized authority on municipal telecommunications projects in Utah and has been interviewed about UTOPIA and iProvo by the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Salt Lake City Weekly and Daily Herald.
I sent the following letter to members of Provo's Municipal Council on June 2, 2008.
Greetings Members of the Council;
I apologize for the last-minute nature of this communication. I've been waiting to collect as much information as possible before I e-mail you important information on why Broadweave is the wrong company to sell iProvo to.
Certainly basic honesty seems to be an issue with Broadweave. As of May 15, they have neglected to obtain business licenses in any municipality where they do business. Washington City has considered referring the matter to enforcement. (See: http://www.freeutopia.org/2008/05/15/broadweave-lacks-proper-business-licenses-corporation-filings/) They also have repeatedly misrepresented their company's age, claiming to have existed since 1999, yet nothing shows that the company existed prior to 2003. In an interview today, Steve Christensen, Broadweave's CEO, is now claiming the company has been around since 2003. Why the lie? (See: http://www.freeutopia.org/2008/05/16/broadweave-did-not-exist-prior-to-2003-website-claims-first-contract-in-1999/
and http://www.freeutopia.org/2008/06/02/broadweave-doubletalks-iprovo-on-couchcast/) They have also talked up the importance of equipment ownership and the poor value of open networks while failing to practice what they preach. (See: http://www.freeutopia.org/2008/05/19/broadweaves-double-talk-on-open-networks/ and http://www.freeutopia.org/2008/05/20/broadweaves-double-talk-on-equipment-ownership/) It is even rumored that they have tax liens filed against them by the state for failure to pay their withholding taxes for November and December of 2007. (See: http://www.freeutopia.org/2008/05/16/evaluating-the-iprovo-asset-purchase-agreement/#comment-4887) Can you really trust a company that shows so many signs of being untrustworthy?
This says nothing of their expansion plans either. The Eagle Broadband network they have purchased in Houston was a seriously distressed asset. In order to make it usable, they need to build a NOC, negotiation franchise agreements and transport rights and replace some vital missing equipment. They also need to overcome a negative consumer perception. At the time that OEN, the previous network operator, went out of business, there were 1500 customers, all of whom lost their service with zero notice. That kind of poor experience means they will be plowing millions upon millions into a network with a strongly negative customer perception. This says nothing of their attempt to pursue developments in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California, pursuits that will require even more money that they do not have.
So what of their technical experience? While Veracity brings in a lot of smart guys, Broadweave itself has zero experience delivering video in Traverse Mountain and has fewer than 30 video customers in Sienna Hills, a subdivision sitting in one of the areas hardest-hit by the subprime mortgage meltdown. Integrating the Veracity team, one that offers very limited video experience, will take months and result in major system hiccups. They will also have to attempt to integrate city employees from the NOC, many of whom are highly opposed to the transaction and have negative opinions of their soon-to-be co-workers. Replacing these highly-skilled employees will be very expensive and have a strong negative impact on network operations, especially in Utah's tight labor market.
The option you are presented with is a terrible one, to spend 19 years financing the operations of a dishonest company with big dreams and small execution that plans to acquire a basket full of technical and HR problems. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject this rent-to-own arrangement and find some other way to resolve the problems behind iProvo.
If you have any additional questions, I would be more than happy to answer them and would request that this letter be entered in as part of the public record on behalf of proponents of open municipal fiber optic networks.
This opinion piece was published in today's Daily Herald.
As an advocate for open-access municipal fiber optic networks, I was disappointed to learn that Provo planned to sell iProvo, the nation's largest such network, to a private entity who planned to become the sole retailer. This disappointment quickly turned to disgust and outrage as more details of this secretly-brokered deal surfaced. After attending several of the public meetings and doing some research, I am convinced that the city of Provo is about to embark on the "SS HomeNet" for a second time.
PacketFront is looking for UTOPIA supporters both in member and non-member cities to organize some peer-to-peer marketing efforts and spread information about UTOPIA via word-of-mouth. Please e-mail Chris Hogan, VP of Marketing at PacketFront, at Chris.Hogan@packetfront.com if you're willing to help spread the network in member cities and get your city to join. I already know of a few small groups in Sandy, West Jordan, Taylorsville and Salt Lake City who are eager to join and the word on the street is that Cedar City has considered switching to pledging status sometime soon to speed construction.
Given the well-funded opposition to UTOPIA from Qwest, Comcast and the Utah Taxpayers Association, it's absolutely critical that we show up in force at future city council meetings and do everything we can to raise awareness and get others to sign up for service. Ten of the eleven pledging cities have decided to "double down" and give UTOPIA a second chance; it's up to us to help prove that this increased risk wasn't for nothing.
I've now sent e-mails to all candidates for Governor, State Senate and State House, though a surprising number of candidates either did not submit an e-mail address or submitted an e-mail address that's invalid! I'm planning on sending out snail-mail versions of the surveys to these candidates, but if you have an e-mail address for any of them (listed below), I'd appreciate being spared the cost of a stamp. After all, I'm doing all of this out-of-pocket.
As a side note, a few candidates have already submitted responses but they have been slow in coming thus far. You can read what I've gotten on the wiki.
I've just finished touching up the questions on the wiki and have sent the first round of e-mail questionnaires to federal candidates in Utah. Once I have one last e-mail address, I'll also fire off a copy to the candidates for governor. Hopefully we'll get some speedy responses and be able to start figuring out which candidates are good for broadband in The Beehive State.
Needless to say, it's a lot of work to pull all this together. It took me about an hour to build both pages and setup the e-mails for that relatively small group of candidates. Where I could really use some help is in building pages for the various candidates for county executive and legislative offices. If you've got some spare time (and a registered account), why not head on over to the Candidate Positions page and add in whatever you can? I sure would appreciate the help.