A Thousand Posts and Eight Years

success_kidNine hundred ninety-nine posts and almost eight years ago, I wrote my first blog post for Free UTOPIA in frustration that the island of unincorporated county in which I lived would likely never see the service. What started as something extremely self-serving (me first, you know) has turned into something, well, bigger than I expected. Reporters started calling me for interviews. I showed up at legislative hearings. I even whipped up an unruly mob or two when bad legislation was proposed. Last month I hit over 21K pageviews from reporting on the Macquarie deal.

So I have to say thanks to you, the readers, who’ve been showing up for far longer than I initially thought I’d be doing this, especially those of you who have been around since almost the beginning. I’m not done until we have open-access fiber in the whole state, so I’ll be around for a while. I hope you will be too.

A Statement on Independence

I’m very often accused of being paid for what I do here at FreeUTOPIA. I’ve also been accused of working for UTOPIA, one of its contractors, or one of its providers. One person even went so far as to claim that I’m simply republishing things written by someone else.

All of these claims are completely and totally false. Full stop. Period. End of story.

I’ve been doing FreeUTOPIA on my own dime for almost eight years. It started on a VERY humble Pentium III 550MHz box in my home office running on my home Internet connection. I moved it several years later to VPS hosting, then again to shared hosting (because VPS ain’t cheap). I’ve spent a lot of time going to legislative and city council meetings on my own dime, have hosted multiple events for UTOPIA supporters around the Wasatch Front, and have always been ready to answer questions from supporters and detractors alike. When I don’t know the answer, I go find it.

All of my content is my own. I get stories and tips passed along, and I’m solely responsible for writing up the articles and adding my own spin to it. Some people will accuse me of being a crappy journalist and my response is always the same: I don’t consider myself a journalist (at least not in any traditional sense). See the tagline at the top? It’s pretty clear I’m in advocacy work. My writing is obviously biased and I wear that on my sleeve. If you need to take what I write with a grain of salt as a result, so be it. That’s a lot better than being highly opinionated and trying to spin what I do dispassionately.

Do I know a lot of people involved with UTOPIA? Well duh. I wouldn’t be very good at this if I didn’t. I can pick up the phone or shoot off an email to multiple contacts at UTOPIA, Macquarie, XMission, Veracity, SumoFiber, WebWave, and others when I need a question answered. I was the only one actually talking to Prime Time Communications when they went under and delivering the deeper details.. I did far more legwork on warning iProvo about the dangers of doing business with Broadweave than anyone else, warnings that proved to be completely accurate. I’ve been working on a story about the sale of AFCNet for over two years. There is nobody in the state, the country, or probably the world that can tell you more about the broadband business in Utah than I can. That’s why when a reporter needs to get up-to-speed quickly, I’m one of the first people they call.

And yet, I haven’t made any money doing this. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I won’t run ads on the site and I’ve turned down direct requests from service providers to do so. I won’t even put an anonymous tip jar on the site because I don’t know that it wouldn’t compromise my ability to stay independent. I pay for hosting out of my own pocket (though granted it’s shared with a bunch of other personal projects). I’ve even spent almost $400 of my own money this month on running Facebook ads to promote articles on the proposed deal with Macquarie because I believe in it this much. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what CenturyLink is paying their friends at the Utah Taxpayers Association to tear this thing down.

If you think I’m paid for this, the joke is on you. I’d be happy to meet you face-to-face and show you how little my bank account has to show for it. “Put your money where your mouth is” is a rare thing these days, so I can understand that there are people who won’t believe it. Just because it’s uncommon doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

Spring Cleaning

Just wanted to give you a quick head’s up that I’m doing a bit of spring cleaning. The theme is fresh and new, and I’m turning off FeedBurner before Google turns it off first. Any of you who were subscribed via email have already been added to the new subscription system. Any of you who use RSS should re-subscribe using the main site feed. FeedBurner will stay up and running as long as Google allows it, but I wouldn’t wait around until its day of reckoning arrives.

A Cooperative Experiment

I’ve been living in White City Township for over 7 years. Less than a year after moving here, I found out about UTOPIA and started kicking myself for not buying a house in a member city. About that time is when I started FreeUTOPIA to try and improve broadband policy in this state. Most of my effort has been focused on municipal efforts since that’s about the only place to see the kinds of drastic improvements I think are needed.

Living in an unincorporated township, I didn’t really have many options to push for UTOPIA membership. Between a combination of legal limbo and unwillingness to extend themselves on more municipal services, pursuing any kind of municipal option here is and likely will always be a dead end. It’s time to take matters into my own hands. To that end, I’d like to announce that I am forming the White City Telecommunications Cooperative. It will be a privately-funded subscriber-owned fiber optic network covering the township and adjacent properties. I don’t know how I’ll do it, and I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but I do know that I’m tired of waiting for better options.

Does this mean I’m going to be neglecting FreeUTOPIA? To be honest, I kind of have been for a while now. UTOPIA is doing a better job of actually communicating what’s going on over there. I’m up to two kids and can’t really spend as much time going to every single council meeting to rehash the same arguments. The blog sees so little traffic these days that I sometimes think I’m just shouting into the void.

Am I quitting FreeUTOPIA? Not even a little bit. Broadband Bytes will still go out. I’ll still be posting periodic essays on telecommunications policy. And I’ll be (somewhat selfishly) working on getting broadband for myself instead of just facilitating others. I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date on how it goes.

Help Me Investigate AFCNet

As you know, I’ve been doing some digging into the fortunes of AFCNet to try and figure out what it’s current status is. The preliminary research revealed that the buyer hasn’t been keeping current on interest-only payments and that the city has been losing a lot of money on it over the last six years. To follow up on this and see if selling the residential network was a bad move, I had to file a second GRAMA request for a significant amount of detail. Despite requesting a waiver for fees since this information is pertinent to the public interest and would be published here free of charge, the city has assessed a fee for these records of $66.50. I know it’s not a large amount, but I do all of this as a hobby of sorts and my personal finances really can’t justify the expense (especially not with a brand new baby).

That’s where you hopefully come in. Given the immense value of having a thorough review of the network, its finances, and its subscriber figures, I think it is imperative that this data get released. Since I can’t spare the money, I’m asking one of you to step in and give me a hand here. Heck, I’ll even provide credit and a plug of your choosing for it. If you’d be interested in helping out, please call or email me using the info on the FAQ.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mike Taylor of Guru Technologies for covering the costs. If you need contract software development, maybe give him a shout.

Site Updates: New Theme, Forums Down for Work

No need to adjust your picture, this is the same Free UTOPIA you know and love. The old theme had become dated, both in terms of having been around for a while and not conforming to the latest visual standards, and it was time for a change. Text should be more readable, especially with inline comment replies, and it should be a lot easier to make updates.

I also took down the old forum because the only people using it were hawking questionable male enhancement products and the like and the old 1.x branch of bbPress is no longer being updated. I’ve been working with bbPress 2.0 which is now a WordPress plugin. Once I can get it setup properly, the forum will be back in action. If I can figure out how to do it properly, it may even allow posting without registration, but without the pesky spam problems. You’ll know more when I do.

If you have any problems or see anything missing, just let me know.

And now a totally off-topic raging rant about Facebook

Just about every website under the sun does at least the bare minimum for social media integration and sets up both a Twitter account and Facebook page. The Twitter account was a piece of cake and thanks to the totally awesome Twitter Tools plugin, I can get a weekly digest of interesting broadband news to publish here on the site. Aside from that time where it wouldn’t post anymore (which I suspect had to do with my slowly dying server at my old host), it’s been easy and mostly headache-free.

Facebook, however, seems intent on cheesing me off. Quite some time ago, I setup a group more-or-less around the website. I quickly realized that its usefulness was very limited since any member of the group had to actively keep checking back to see what changed. That even included me as the group admin, not a pretty setup. The obvious way to go seemed to be to setup a fan page and tinker with that.

So way back in August, I went to setup the fan page and was promptly auto-rejected by their Smarter-Than-Me code because my page name had “excessive capitalization”. I can see why; a lot of spammers and scammers like page titles like “FREE IPOD FOR LIFE OMG!!!!1!!!one!!!” to try and grab your attention. The form, though, provided the option to submit documentation that what you asked to use is legit. I figured “hey, using UTOPIA’s own website, its Wikipedia article, and a newspaper story with my website name ought to be enough, right?” It also seemed to imply that a human with soft skin would actually look at it, logically deduce that I was a real person with a real site, and get things moving for me.

Silly me.

Instead, I’ve been through the various circles of support hell that so many web companies have been getting infamous for. The first e-mail got a generic canned response of what the web page had already told me. A response to that got me the same e-mail, copied and pasted, that I had gotten in the first place. When I replied to that, I didn’t hear anything for over two months despite sending repeated e-mails. I finally got a response that they had reviewed and approved my request. Happy happy happy! Joy joy joy! All I had to do was go attempt to create the page again.

Except that it didn’t work. That was back in October. I’ve been e-mailing them since then to try and get some kind of action, but I might as well be tossing coins into the fountain of my local mall. I sent more e-mails today in the off chance that maybe, just maybe a real live person with skin and organs that eats and breathes will see it, take pity on me, and maybe let me make the page with the right name.

And I can already here you folks out there saying “dude, it’s free; shut your pie hole.” To which I have to say, so what if the product is free? That’s Facebook’s decision to offer a product for free. If it’s crap, so I lose the ability to complain because it’s free? Of course not. And… it’s not free. I’m sending my website subscribers over there to get their data mined so that the latest FarmWarsVille game can hawk virtual crap to them. If anything, Facebook should be doing its darnedest to get more content and pages, not put up barriers to getting it done.

And sure, I could use an improperly capitalized name, but that would look really low-quality and likely be confused as not being the real deal. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. That includes setting up a proper fan page, not a make-do hack.

If any of you knows people at Facebook or has some idea how to find a human that thinks instead of a script that doesn’t, please let me know. I’m ready for this frustration to end.