HB414 proposes a new state broadband agency

Rep Stephen Handy

Rep Stephen Handy

Is Utah finally getting serious about broadband? Maybe. Rep. Stephen Handy is proposing a new Utah Broadband Outreach Center to spur more development in the state. Like the Utah Broadband Project, it would be attached to GOED and have a director appointed by the agency. Its stated purposes are to coordinate between state and local agencies to ensure best practices (like proactively notifications of open trenches) and make policy recommendations to both the governor and legislature.

This is one of those two-edged swords depending on who the agency chooses to involve. If existing players get to dominate the conversation, we’ll get more incumbent-protecting legislation and little improvement in service or competition. If they involve local ISPs and other stakeholders, it could actually do some good. Given that both Comcast and AT&T have expressed support of the bill, they seem to think they have a shot at gaming it, so it would be critical, if this bill were passed, to make sure the agency hears from you about how it should operate.

Rep. Handy can be contacted at 801-979-8711 or stevehandy@le.utah.gov.

Back from the dead: New UTOPIA provider may revive FTTH in Springvile

Neighborhood Networks LogoWay back in 2004, Springville had a fiber-to-the-home network covering most of the city, but it had only picked up about 100 subscribers. The city made the decision to shutter the network, purchased from the defunct AirSwitch, since it was operating at a loss and was mostly dark. Now a new UTOPIA provider, Neighborhood Networks, has big plans to bring back fiber in the city and provide gigabit services at the now-standard rate of $70/mo.

The state of the current city network isn’t all that good. Most of the electronics are in need of replacing and many segments didn’t have any installed to begin with. There’s also the question of the state of a network that has gone unused for over a decade. For instance, the fibers or conduit could be broken or there may be a lot of unmapped network assets. Repairing what’s there would be an expensive endeavor, and it’s why Neighborhood networks plans to build from scratch, bypassing the current city assets. I reached out to the Mayor of Springville, Wilford Clyde, to ask more about the network and received no response.

Neighborhood Networks CTO Johnathan Pemberthy says the company sold most of their WISP operations to help finance building out the city. They’re also hoping to take an approach like UTOPIA did in Brigham City (and Google Fiber later emulated in Kansas City, Austin, and Provo) to sign up neighborhoods before starting construction. With a 25% take rate, they’ll build a neighborhood and offer 100Mbps for $40/mo or 1Gbps for $70/mo with an eye towards eventually providing 10Gbps services down the road. The service will come with no caps, no throttling, and no contracts. Most interestingly, they’re offering a standard same-day SLA for residential customers and 4-hour for business customers, what Pemberthy calls their crucial differentiator.

Building fiber is certainly no easy task, even with a good business plan. They’re still negotiating right of way with the city (which will take about six months) and aren’t ready to start seeking out areas of demand just yet. (Seriously. If you call, they’ll probably ask you to call back when they’re ready.) Another challenge is that supplies of fiber equipment are stretched pretty thin as gigabit mania sweeps the nation. It also costs a lot of money to dig trenches and lay conduit, something that’s caused Google investors a lot of heartburn when it comes time to look at earnings statements.

If you’re living in Springville, keep your ears to the ground for some next-gen broadband in your backyard.

Macquarie Milestone 2: What you need to know

Macquarie’s Milestone 2 proposal has been finally released to the public. Here’s a quick run-down of the most important details.

  • The final cost per address is estimated at $22.60 per month. Macquarie estimates that re-working the deal to account for five cities bowing out trimmed the cost by $8.57 per month.
  • The revenue split is much more generous than I expected, allowing the cities to keep 75% of wholesale revenue after the first $2M per year. It’s expected to completely cover the debt service by 2021 with just a 24% take rate for premium services.
  • The basic level service has also been improved. Instead of 3M/3M service being included at no extra cost, it’s been bumped to 5M/5M. This matches Google Fiber speeds on the free tier. The data cap stays put at 20GB per month.
  • Macquarie will still be in charge of operating the network for opt-out cities.
  • A public vote will determine if the project moves forward in the opt-in cities.
  • Cities are free to determine what, if any, opt-out provisions will be available.
  • Users won’t be charged a utility fee until they connect to the network or six months after the network connection is available, whichever comes first.
  • UIA and SAA users will not pay any utility fee. If you’re already paying for (or have paid) your network connection, there’s no utility fee for you.
  • The UTOPIA NOC would be closed and all NOC operations moved to a Fujitsu facility in Texas. Keeping a primary or secondary NOC in Utah would raise the utility fee by between $1.50 and $1.79.
  • Almost all of the network revenues are being driven by Veracity, XMission, and SumoFiber. Other ISPs are very small by comparison.
  • The majority of currently connected users are in opt-out cities. This only reinforced that the votes there were “we got ours” selfishness.

Overall, this still looks like a great deal for the cities who are moving forward. It could still be a great deal for cities that haven’t figured out what to do about the network yet (looking at you, Orem).

If you want to read the full report, I’ve attached a PDF copy. 

Download (PDF, 1.68MB)

BREAKING: Perry says yes to Macquarie by a unanimous vote

Perry CityIn a 4-0 vote (one council member was not present), Perry opted to move forward with Macquarie’s Milestone Two proposal for UTOPIA. This brings the final total of addresses participating to just shy of 53%. Each city who opted to get the full proposal will still need to vote to accept it once it’s completed. All UTOPIA pledging cities have had a chance to vote on the proposal before the June 27th deadline to respond.

BREAKING: Orem votes no on Macquarie’s Milestone Two for UTOPIA

Orem city logoOrem voted 6-1 to reject Macquarie’s proposal for the UTOPIA network. Orem represents 18.7% of the total addresses covered by the network. Midvale, West Valley City, Layton, Tremonton, and Brigham City have all voted yes while Payson, Lindon, Centerville, and Murray have voted no. A vote from Perry is expected tonight as well and they are expected to move forward, though the city accounts for slightly less than 1% of passed addresses. The total addresses that will be covered under Milestone Two stays at 51.8%, though Perry could nudge it close to 53%.

While the deadline for response to the Macquarie proposal is Friday the 27th, cities may still be able to work on a deal with Macquarie to get fiber infrastructure in their cities. It’s very likely, however, that the cost will be higher and they will be at the end of the line for construction. Macquarie has enough cities interested in Milestone Two to move forward with the proposal which should take about two months to complete. At that time, the cities who opted in will have the chance to review and vote on it. Upon acceptance, Macquarie is going to stick to an aggressive 30-month build plan.

BREAKING: Centerville follows Murray, is out on Milestone Two

Centerville LogoCenterville followed Murray in rejecting Milestone Two tonight, this one on a 4-1 vote. Only Perry and Orem are left to vote, but so far over half of the addresses covered by UTOPIA are opting to move forward with getting more information from Macquarie on the true cost to build, operate, and maintain the network for 30 years. Despite what you may hear, this is enough to have the Macquarie deal move forward if the Milestone Two cities accept the finalized proposal.

Most disappointing is that Centerville has 93% coverage in their city, so the vote appears to be a “we got ours” kind of statement. Tremonton and Brigham City both voted yes despite similar levels of coverage, recognizing that this is the best offer on the table and a better one is unlikely to come along.

BREAKING: Murray says no on Milestone Two by a unanimous vote

Murray logoMurray joins Payson and Lindon in declining to move forward with the proposal from Macquarie. The council voted unanimously to pass despite not really having any other workable options on the table. Of course, they’re now in a heck of a pickle: Murray has attracted numerous businesses to the city (including a new location of the Moran Eye Center) with UTOPIA, but they’re running the risk of the network going dark if they won’t cover any operational shortfalls.

Centerville is also taking a vote tonight in a special council meeting. I’ll post when I have results from there.

Orem Mayor Richard Brunst Lies About XMission to Hurt the Macquarie Proposal

Orem Mayor Richard Brunst

Orem Mayor Richard Brunst

In what can only be described as an outrageous disservice to the citizens of Orem, Mayor Richard Brunst outright lied about XMission’s intentions to participate in the basic 3Mbps level of service. When asked about it, XMission founder Pete Ashdown had this to say:

I’ve personally also heard or seen statements from SumoFiber, Veracity Networks, and WebWave that they have no problems providing the basic tier, a contractual requirement to remain a service provider on the network.

The mayor also accused XMission of redlining poor neighborhoods which also elicited an angry response:

It’s no secret that Mayor Brunst is a likely no vote against the Macquarie deal, but outright lying about a well-respected local company to try and convince others to do the same is a new low. The Mayor owes everyone at XMission a huge apology for simply making crap up.

Brigham City advances to Macquarie Milestone Two

Brigham City became the fifth UTOPIA city to move forward with the proposal from Macquarie and seek full details under Milestone Two. The council passed it on a 3-2 vote. Cities who have not yet taken a vote include Centerville, Orem, Murray, and Perry. This means that over 51.8% of homes in UTOPIA cities are now on board with getting full details of the proposal from Macquarie.

Word on the street is that Perry might actually move forward with the deal to not be left behind by their northern neighbors. Given that the city currently has no fiber, this may be the only way for it to make good on its existing bond commitments. They’ll be holding their next city council meeting on June 26th at 7PM.

Comcast to customer in UTOPIA cities: “drop dead, here’s a rate hike”

Comcast-LogoIn a somewhat shocking move, Comcast has recently released a rate table showing that it’s giving every one of its customers in UTOPIA cities (and just UTOPIA cities) a rate hike just days after the deadline to respond to the Macquarie deal. With several cities still set to vote, you have to wonder what they would have to gain by underscoring UTOPIA’s points about a competitive marketplace. You may recall they slashed rates to the bone in Provo when Google Fiber moved in.

One theory is that they may be trying to lock customers into long-term contracts in exchange for lower rates. If that’s the case, it’s the same way they’ve tried to starve out competitors in other markets Standard Oil style. This only underscores how grossly anti-competitive the telecommunications market is.

Here’s a full chart of the rate increases:

Comcast Rate Hikes