A very common problem in UTOPIA cities is living near the fiber but being unable to get service. I’ve heard stories of having it stop 100 feet away, barely two lots. It’s pretty frustrating to be so close, and yet so far. So why does it happen? The answer lies in how fiber gets deployed.
You’re probably used to the idea of how copper plants get deployed. For DSL, all the phone company has to do is cut in a copper pair and call it good. That’s cheap and easy (especially since the infrastructure is already built), but it’s also a very different technology. Same deal with cable. Fiber requires a very specific build pattern with huts for the fiber and rings running through a deployed area. It doesn’t take kindly to trying to splice in a connection that wasn’t planned for.
Yes, this stinks if you’re right on the edge of a deployed footprint. But running fiber to include you wouldn’t work and would probably break the existing footprint.
No sooner did Sen. John Valentine promise to UTOPIA and Macquarie to withdraw Amendment 2 to SB190 than he started telling constituents that he hasn’t made up his mind yet. As previously covered, this amendment would keep Macquarie from doing the same kind of utility fee deal in new cities that it’s currently arranging with UTOPIA. It seems now that Sen. Valentine is dealing with UTOPIA and Macquarie in bad faith, telling them one thing while he tries to do another.
This means we need to keep up the email campaign to oppose it. In addition to hitting the Senate body, you should also contact Rep. James Dunnigan, the House sponsor, to let him know that you don’t want to support Amendment 2. The only way this goes through in a way to benefit all Utahns, not just those in UTOPIA cities, is if the bill is preserved as amended in the Senate Business and Labor Committee.
There’s only 13 days left in the legislative session. Make them count!
PS Yes, I have a GRAMA request in to see who’s been talking to Sen. Valentine about this bill.
While nothing has yet been inked, I’m hearing a lot of rumors from multiple sources about the kinds of terms being discussed with Macquarie. While none of them will be out in the open until Macquarie finishes estimating the cost of network completion, this may give us some hints as to what to expect in the final product. Here’s what I’ve been hearing so far.
No installation fee. The install fee is rumored to be history. The network construction cost will cover getting the fiber to the side of the house. At that point, you’ve got maybe $200-300 in install costs to get it in to the house. Word is that Macquarie may work out the numbers to eat that cost to get people signed up.
Credit for any install fees already paid. You heard that right. If you paid the install fee up-front, that money will reportedly be applied towards the utility fee. Those who paid the install won’t be left swinging.
Construction completed in two years… or less. This one really surprises me. The plan is to complete the build-out of all pledging member cities VERY quickly. That kind of build speed would be incredible.
A free tier of service faster than Google. The utility fee is going to include a baseline level of service. The rumored speed is 6Mbps/2Mbps, better than Google’s current 5Mbps/1Mbps service.
A full build-out of the entire state. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I keep on hearing that Macquarie considers UTOPIA to be getting their foot into the door in the US. Their reported intent is to wire every home, urban and rural, to gigabit fiber. Utah could quickly become the first all-gigabit state and have dozens of providers to choose from.
The cities maintain ownership. Yes, you heard right. When the 30-year deal is done, the cities still own UTOPIA. This provision would supposedly also apply to new cities that join up and maybe even the cooperative I’m working on (which would be the only option in unincorporated areas). That’s a pretty amazing deal.
Some of this sounds like it’s in “too good to be true” territory. Even if half of it pans out, I’ll be pretty impressed.
Did you have a glimmer of hope that you’d be able to get UTOPIA service in your city once Macquarie comes in? Sen. John Valentine just smashed it with a hammer. His floor amendment to SB190 makes it so that only current UTOPIA cities can use a utility fee to finance construction of the network. Any new cities that join would be unable to do so at all.
Why does this matter? Because Macquarie has structured the entire deal around it. If future cities can’t do it, they can’t get the same terms that Macquarie is offering UTOPIA. This could derail their rumored plans to cover the entire state in gigabit fiber with over a dozen competing providers.
Right now, the bill is in the Senate and will come to a floor vote. It’s urgent that you contact members of the Senate, particularly your senator, to tell them to oppose this amendment. Sen. Valentine is working in bad faith by not involving UTOPIA cities either in this new amendment or the original bill.
Click here to email the entire Senate body and voice your opposition! They need to hear from you.
UPDATED 2-27-2014 2:25PM: We won! Valentine has committed to UTOPIA mayors to pull Amendment 2. Now if it can just go through without any other trickery…
Still thinking that Google Fiber is your only gigabit option in SLC? Think again. I’ve heard from several reliable sources that Salt Lake City got on Google’s short list for a new round of expansion because of fears that UTOPIA would beat them to the punch (and possibly go into Provo as well). Macquarie is reportedly interested in expanding UTOPIA across the entire state and has particular interest in Salt Lake City since it’s the largest and most visible municipality. UTOPIA already has several fiber rings within the city it could use to fuel the expansion. If this rumor is true, it could mean that Utah would soon be not only the first gigabit state, but one with 17 separate companies competing for your business.
I’ve also heard rumors about details of the Macquarie deal that make it an even better deal that I possibly imagined. Once I get confirmation on some of the details, you’ll be the next to know.
I’ve been looking over some amendments that Sen. John Valentine has made to SB190 and it appears to be much improved over its original form. The utility fee is back on the table, but it does require that municipalities carve out exemptions for “economically indigent” persons if they can’t afford the fee. It also conveniently still omits Provo from these new requirements despite its large low-income student population.
The changes came after Sen. Valentine met with mayors from UTOPIA cities, something he probably should have done before even drafting the bill. It also cites unnamed “mayors” who initially pushed him to run the bills, presumably not from UTOPIA cities. I’d personally like to know who they were and why they would care what UTOPIA cities are doing with their budgets and bond debts.
One lingering concern I have is that “economically indigent” isn’t a defined term I can find in either in the bill or elsewhere in the chapter. The best I can find is in Title 77-32-202, paragraph (3)(a)(ii) where indigent is defined as under 150% of the federal poverty level for purposes of assigning free legal counsel. Based on the current federal poverty level, that would work out to $35,325 for a family of four. It’s unknown if that would be the standard by which all cities would be judged or if they’d be free to establish their own guidelines.
Even with the improvements, I still plan to speak against this bill. If it’s a good idea, there’s no reason to exempt Provo (thus providing an indirect advantage to Google). I’m also not comfortable with leaving terms undefined as a “gotcha” to try putting the original restrictions in place in another session. Finally, I don’t like the legislature trying to dictate terms to cities as if they are a super-city council. If they want to run the city, they should get on the council themselves.
I just got a notice that SB190, the bill that could chase off Macquarie, will be heard Monday February 24 at 8AM in the Senate Business and Labor committee. Word on the street is that members of the committee have been getting a lot of emails in opposition (good job, folks), but we also should show up to speak against it. Make sure you spread this around so we can show up in force!
It appears the legislature is determined to chase off a $300M investment in our state’s broadband infrastructure to appease CenturyLink. Sen. John Valentine is running SB190 which has been very specifically crafted to prevent any UTOPIA city from using the same utility fee that Provo has to pay down the bonds. Moving to a utility fee to provide transparency on the cost of the UTOPIA bonds has been a key part of the Macquarie discussions so far, so it could very well put the deal in jeopardy.
Just like with Rep. Curt Webb, all you have to do is follow the money. Since 2008, Sen. Valentine has taken $200 from the Utah Rural Telecom Association, $1500 from CenturyLink/Qwest, and a whopping $7250 from Comcast with at least one donation every single year. He’s heard from the incumbents; now he needs to hear from us.
SB190 isn’t currently on the Senate Business and Labor Committee agenda, but I’ll let you know when it is. If it passes, it could hamper the deal to have Macquarie complete gigabit fiber to over 150K homes and prevent them from expanding beyond current UTOPIA cities. Now is the time to contact the members of the committee and tell them to kill this bill.
I’m beginning to think that Rep. Curt Webb is trying to win a “most indecisive legislator” award or something. I’ve gotten word (from three sources) that HB60 has been pulled from the House Government Operations Committee hearing yet again. There’s no indication yet on when it will now be heard, but we’re certain to get at least 24 hours of notice. With the President’s Day holiday coming up, I think we can at least stand down for the weekend.
As always, I’ll provide updates when they’re available.
Despite looking like it’s dead, HB60 is coming back for a committee hearing on Friday at 8AM. This is the best chance to kill the bill for good, so it’s very important that as many opponents as possible come to the hearing and voice their opposition. The bill is currently fourth on the agenda, so even if you’re a bit late, you’ll likely be able to get a chance to speak.
Now is the time to email, call, or visit members of the committee to urge them to oppose this bill. Showing up will make the most difference. If it dies in committee, there’s a good chance it won’t come to a floor vote at all.