Earlier today, UTOPIA posted a cryptic message on Facebook and Twitter that they’d be announcing something on Monday September 16. Obviously, such a vague message has sent the speculation engine into overdrive, but a little birdie told me it has something to do with gigabit.
The likely possibility is that gigabit plans are likely to get a whole lot cheaper. Right now, they’re in the $300/mo price range. Google Fiber is planning to do gigabit for $70 in Provo. It’s possible that we may see a large price cut to make gigabit a much more appealing product in UTOPIA areas. I’d be surprised if it dropped to the same price as Google Fiber, but a price at or under $100/mo would be quite appealing.
Of course, we’ll have to wait until Monday to know for sure and get the details.
I popped on over to the UTOPIA website today and found that they’ve added two new service providers: 1Wire Communications and InfoWest. I don’t know a lot about 1Wire, but I do know that InfoWest is a well-regarded CLEC in the St. George area. Both companies will be providing voice and data services to business customers. 1Wire also offers a hosted PBX service similar to Telesphere. It would be nice, though, if more of these companies would open up to residential customers. It seems like it’s been a while since a new residential provider busted onto the scene.
That may change, however. I heard a rumor that Beehive Telephone, a rural ILEC in Utah and eastern Nevada, is considering joining UTOPIA to extend their reach. I remember that they’ve previously had some harsh words for UTOPIA, so this would be a major turnaround for them. Personally, I think it’s a smart move for any ILEC, rural or not, to use UTOPIA to extend their reach without having to invest in more network. You may remember that Emery Telecom was considering joining iProvo many moons ago but later backed out.
I used to have a contact at Nuvont, but he went unresponsive about a year ago leading me to think that maybe he’s no longer with the company. I figured the company went through some downsizing after the sale of their customers on iProvo, but this link that popped up in my Google Alerts doesn’t exactly bode well.
Now granted, this page doesn’t appear to be accessible from any link on the site, but its existence is disconcerting given how dreadfully quiet the company has been. Anyone from Nuvont want to chime in?
Today’s Deseret News ran an article about UTOPIA’s preparation for some pending litigation, but it’s not really much in the way of news. We all know that UTOPIA and RUS aren’t on each other’s Christmas card lists and that UTOPIA incurred some significant expenses as a result of the incompetence of that federal agency. Negotiations with RUS broke down months ago and UTOPIA was still left holding the bag. At this point, they really don’t have much of a choice but to go after RUS in court since a settlement could not be reached and the damages are in the tens of millions.
UTOPIA obviously can’t confirm nor deny anything at this point, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. The question, though, is why this is being cast in some kind of sneaky and sinister light. Only an idiot would openly discuss pending litigation in a public meeting, much less with members of the press. It’s also not uncommon to have internal agency meetings that don’t require public notice. I would bet that every city, county, state agency, and interlocal agency has done the same.
That said, I can understand why someone would be heavily suspicious. UTOPIA has always struggled with putting information out for public scrutiny. It isn’t helped when the incumbent guns-for-hire Utah “Taxpayers” Association regularly takes what information is public and distorts or outright fabricates negative information about the project.
Basically, there’s nothing to see here that you haven’t already heard through the grapevine. When there’s real news, they’ll probably put out a press release.
There’s been a whirlwind of speculation since last night when a press release came out announcing that Connected Lyfe, one of UTOPIA’s newer providers, was being acquired by a then-unknown company called Hangman Productions. This wasn’t helped when an 8-K filing with the SEC came to light that showed Connected Lyfe as the purchaser of UTOPIA’s new video headend. It was pretty easy to assume the worst that the white-label video product would end and it might be a small step towards selling the network. After doing some digging and talking to both Todd Marriott and Chris Hogan at UTOPIA, it looks like that’s not the case at all. In fact, this is probably a really good thing all around.
I received word from a reliable source at a service provider that Broadweave may be considering joining UTOPIA. This information was passed along from a company that both of them do business with. According to this company, Broadweave has stepped up its outsourced call center operations in preparation for adding new customers on UTOPIA’s network.
UTOPIA and Broadweave have had an acrimonious working relationship in the past stemming from the entanglement between UTOPIA and iProvo regarding the head-end assets. This was no doubt hurt further by ex-CEO Steve Christensen’s forceful and demanding management style. The question is if the upending of upper management is enough to mend the relationship to the point where this rumor becomes fact.
If true, this would be a really good (and smart) move for Broadweave. They’ve hit a brick wall with adding customers on iProvo and are under a “do or die” deadline of February when the reserve runs out of cash. The rumors that they will soon be booted from Traverse Mountain also persist, though nothing new has developed. Getting access to the tens of thousands of UTOPIA homes passed and preserving some of their Traverse Mountain customers could give them the revenue needed to pay off the iProvo bonds and better leverage their head-end and NOC facilities.
Of course, we should also ask if Broadweave would be good for UTOPIA. Customer service complaints still persist and the company may not have the cash available to market to new customers unless EsNet makes additional investments. Broadweave has also failed to deliver video to Traverse Mountain despite the acquisition of a head-end, something I understand to be one of the main reasons for that development’s discontent. There’s also the matter of going from a geographically condense market to one spread over a 120-mile stretch, something that could drive their install costs up.
We should also wonder if Broadweave joining an open network like UTOPIA would signal that they’re ready to give the wholesale model another shot in Provo. Apparently closing the network wasn’t enough to staunch the flow of red ink as they claimed it would. Outside providers have money to spend on snapping up new accounts while Broadweave is charging around $600 for installs (and, I should note, not offering a discount on monthly service as a result). It’s entirely possible that a reciprocity agreement with UTOPIA providers to give them access to the network could result in higher overall revenues even at the expense of retail customers. Research from The Yankee Group suggests that an open provider model generates more revenue than adding lots of extra services, revenue that Broadweave needs.
So what do you think? If this happens, will it be good for Broadweave, UTOPIA, both, or neither?
A reliable source passed along a rumor that Broadweave’s troubles in Traverse Mountain are about to come to an end, but not in the way the company would like. Residents, after years of not getting video and being required to purchase phone service that many don’t use, are reportedly about to have the HOA sever the contract with Broadweave for data and voice services. Given the amount of griping I’ve seen on the Traverse Mountain Community forum, it’s not surprising to see this happen. I find it ironic that Broadweave cited high customer satisfaction in TM as a reason they were well-suited to operate iProvo.
Of particular interest is that the HOA is also rumored to be negotiating with several new service providers to replace Broadweave, including UTOPIA. If UTOPIA is being considered and ultimately wins the contract, residents would get immediate competition and triple-play services. (Side note: the administrator of the TM forum is apparently a UTOPIA employee who left iProvo.) It’s anyone’s guess as to if the rumor is true or not, but it makes sense given UTOPIA’s relationships with existing service providers and backbone proximity to the community.
A forum poster on DSLReports isn’t too happy with Prime Time Communications. S/he reported had an STB swap last week that resulted in a loss of channels, frequent pixelation and/or tiling, and being downgraded from a dual-tuner DVR. They’re also reporting issues with out-of-sync audio and video with the new Aminet 530 STB. Given the rather hasty swap from the iProvo headend to the Prime Time one in St. George it’s not surprising to find a few bumps in the road but after years of MSTAR’s video issues, it’s very ill-timed.
Any readers out there with similar issues or pointers on how to fix it? Or, better yet, would someone from Prime Time like to reach out to give this guy a hand?
A blog post showed up in my Google Alerts from a Provo resident who claims that Broadweave may be charging big-time install fees for customers not already wired to iProvo. Per the poster’s account, they called on behalf of a neighbor and was told that any home not already hooked up would be assessed a $600 install fee. A lot of people hammered on UTOPIA for their install fee trial balloon and they responded with low install fees (if any) and a slightly higher but still competitive monthly rate to compensate. Broadweave had better smart up and take a play from that book.
Inside sources confirm the rumor from a month ago: Steve Christensen will leave his position as CEO of Broadweave and will not longer be a part of the company effective today. After months of relying on the line-of-credit to make the bond payment and facing an increasingly hostile HOA in Traverse Mountain, investors at EsNet are rumored to be taking over operations and exerting much greater control over the company to protect their investment. I say it’s about time.
This change in leadership can only be a good thing. Steve always struck me as a used car salesman in a better suit, all too willing to believe his own inflated hype. In contrast, I hear the guys from EsNet are very savvy and know how to run a business. Maybe this ship can finally be turned around.