FreeUTOPIA! FAQ

Website

Municipal Broadband

UTOPIA

Website

What’s this all about?

I started FreeUTOPIA.org in September of 2006 after I discovered that hundred of thousands of residents of Utah are ineligible to participate in and receive the benefits of UTOPIA if they live in unincorporated areas. Since that time, I have expanded to report on relevant telecommunications news as well as follow developments on iProvo, Spanish Fork Community Network (SFCN), and AFCNet.

Who runs this site?

Just me, Jesse Harris. There’s no PAC behind it, no non-profit corporation looking for money, no backing of a political party. I’m just a guy who passionately believes that something must be done to introduce better competition in telecommunications and provide broadband speeds competitive with other nations.

As of August 2008, Jonathan Karras and Mike Taylor started contributing articles to the site.

Where exactly do you work again?

I specifically do not mention my employer as they do not endorse my efforts through FreeUTOPIA and I do not want to give the appearance that they do. Suffice to say that I work for a software company with no business interest in the success or failure of UTOPIA, its contractors or its business partners.

How can I contact you?

You can e-mail me at jesse@freeutopia.org or give me a call at (801) 937-4471. I can also be reached via Twitter (elforesto) or various instant messenger (IM) platforms:

  • AOL Instant Messenger (AIM): TheElevatorMan
  • MSN/Live Messenger: elforesto@hotmail.com
  • Yahoo Instant Messenger: elforesto
  • Jabber/XMPP/Google Talk: elforesto@gmail.com

There’s also an official site Twitter account (@FreeUTOPIA) and Facebook fan page. You can also find my various personal presences online using About.me.

Do you accept user submissions?

I’ll consider any submission for publication complete with full credit and a backlink, if applicable. If you want to submit an article or tip anonymously, please note it in your e-mail.

Municipal Broadband

What’s municipal broadband?

Think of municipal broadband as an airport for your Internet, telephone and cable TV service. When an airport is built, local governments gather up the money, build it, and then lease it out to airline companies to pay back the bonds and emerge profitable. Municipal broadband works in the same way. Local government, usually your city, will front the money to build the network and then contract with companies to offer Internet, telephone and cable TV service, often at prices far below what the dominant cable and telephone companies would charge.

Why would I be interested in municipal broadband?

UTOPIA currently has speeds up to 10x faster than DSL and 3x faster than a cable modem yet at a significantly lower rate. These networks can also offer better prices on digital cable and telephone services. Someone who has Internet and basic digital cable service from Comcast would save almost $40 a month by switching to UTOPIA. Packages with a full range of digital cable channels, unlimited use telephone service with free long distance, and a high-speed Internet connection can be as low as $110 per month. The pricing is so much lower than Comcast or Qwest because several companies are competing for your business.

Isn’t municipal broadband subsidized by tax dollars?

Not exactly. UTOPIA is structured in such a way that cities pledge tax revenues to cover any shortfalls on the debt service not paid from subscriber revenues. The current loan is a 33-year municipal bond at around 6%. Projections show that with a low participation rate (i.e. 25% of eligible homes subscribing to an average of 2 services each) is enough to cover bond payments without any tax revenues. Most municipal networks have a participation rate of 20-30% by the end of the first year. The current model shifts the cost of network construction back onto subscribers via utility easements and special assessment areas. Other networks may use differing models, though this one places most of the cost of the network squarely on subscribers.

Doesn’t this mean the government is competing with private business?

No. Municipal broadband projects like UTOPIA are by law not allowed to provide retail services to residences or businesses. They can only sell network access to service providers such as MStar, XMission and Broadweave who resell it to end users. As a user, you only do business with a private company who is leasing access to your home much in the same way that the power company might lease pole space from the city to provide power. Also bear in mind that incumbent providers Comcast and Qwest have a standing invitation to join the network. This has been refused by both companies and was offered before ground broke on construction.

UTOPIA

What cities are participating in UTOPIA?

You can find a current list of participating cities here. Some homebuilders, such as Hamlet Homes, have paid to extend UTOPIA into non-member cities to serve some of their subdivisions. Additionally, municipal broadband is provided in Spanish Fork through SFCN. Provo and American Fork have opted to sell their municipal broadband networks to private companies.

What if my city isn’t participating?

You should make sure your mayor and city council know that you’re interested in your city participating. Write to them and encourage your neighbors and local businesses to do the same. With so many knowledge-based jobs in Utah and the growth of the high-tech sector, a good communications network will be crucial to economic development. Inexpensive communications networks are also a great selling point in encouraging residents to move to your city. You can refer to a how-to guide I wrote, “How to Bring UTOPIA to Your City, the UIA Way” for more information and sample presentations.

I’m not in an incorporated city. What can I do?

You will have to work with your county government instead of a city government, though this is often more challenging. The same process applies, building grassroots support for bringing in the network. You can also explore forming a private cooperative for the same purpose. While no unincorporated areas current participate in the network, they are not precluded from doing so under the new special assessment area (SAA) model.

What can I do to help UTOPIA succeed?

The best thing you can do is to talk to friends, family, and acquaintances in member cities and encourage them to sign up for services. The higher the subscription rate, the faster that UTOPIA can expand and the more successful it will be. Once it is on solid financial footing, other cities will be more willing to join the network in the future.

7 Responses to FreeUTOPIA! FAQ

  1. Pingback: SF Fiber » Blog Archive » Fiber success story: UTOPIA

  2. Trent Larson says:

    Thanks for this FAQ. But it’s hard to follow: the answers do not have the questions before them! You have to go click on the question at the top to figure out the context. Just FYI.

  3. Utah Native Marine says:

    Its really sad to investigate the REAL reasons cities have ‘chosen’ not to participate in Utopia. The fact SO MANY city officials have ties to cable and DLS providers becoming entirely evident. Although Spanish Fork “co-operates” with Utopia; it IS NOT an actual provider of Fiber Internet to its residents …and they argue about government inteferring with private business! Gimmie a break, you HAVE to utilize SPCN for anything different than DSL. Yet they say its so its residents arent having to buy from big corporation(s). HELLO!!! What gives them the right at all to decide this.

    Beyond all that, I am a Utopia household. I WILL NOT move to ANY city that it is not provided in, as well as thru my current ISP(XMission). Since proper Utopia installation, I have enjoyed un-encumbered interent with CONSTANT speeds, not some mathemetaical theory called ‘Turbo Boost’, but based in PROVEN transmission law. Not only that, my speeds, more often than not, test higher than promised. Iv gotten reults of 62 Mbps download with 58 Mbps upload (HOLY LIGHTNING SPEED BATMAN!!!). If your a gamer, I dont have to tell you what this means! I now have TWO SEPARATE connections, its that good.

    All in all, with the grants established by the current administration, its almost a wonder many cities in Utah are not taking advantage of this? Are they afraid to have REAL, HONEST internet? Is it more than that, being such a republican based area? Im unsure, but I do know as a memebr of the USMC, that Utopia cities are the only cities current with todays technologies. Cable continues to try and push the envelope of theory transmission but its starting to fail WILDLY. You can even be hacked by an illicit user further down the line in your connecting node; but as long as one gets to ‘Farmville’, I guess everything must be okay …???

  4. Pingback: Help Me Investigate AFCNet | Free UTOPIA!

  5. Gary D. Brown says:

    As a resident of Orem, a 21-year veteran in the telecommunications industry, and a long-time watcher of UTOPIA, I know it is the Utah State Legislature who created the UTOPIA mess in 2001!
    When UTOPIA was first proposed, I was all for getting a fiber optic connection to every home and business in the at-that-time 18 cities. In my opinion, the original business model was sound; install fiber to each home/business and offer data, voice, and television services at the retail level. Of course, the entrenched incumbent businesses, namely Qwest (now CenturyLink) (local telephone), Comcast (cable TV), and AT&T (long-distance telephone), all three of whom would face real competition, sent their lobbyists to the state legislature and after some intense lobbying, got the legislature to eviscerate the UTOPIA business plan by passing a law in 2001 that prohibited community-based consortiums such as UTOPIA from offering services at the retail level . This “small” change meant UTOPIA would have to incur the cost of building out the fiber network, but could not offer services itself; instead, it would have to induce other service providers to offer the retail services and UTOPIA could only offer wholesale network services to the retail service providers.
    This single act of legislation basically doomed UTOPIA, which is exactly what the commercial competitors wanted. How successful do you think CenturyLink, Comcast, or AT&T would have been if they had been forced by government to install their telecommunication or cable networks, but could not offer any services direct to customers? They would not have been successful at all!
    Artificially limiting UTOPIA to a wholesale business model guaranteed it would incur huge debts with an inability to repay them because it cannot service the debt with the much-lower-revenue wholesale model. In addition, the retail services offered would be fractured, having no integrated single model of presentation and interaction with consumers. Further, it is doubly ironic the incumbent service providers yelled “fire” concerning UTOPIA and competition in the public marketplace to the state legislature when at the time they themselves were each guaranteed a monopoly in their respective marketplace, enforced by government edict and built with government subsidies, which continue to this day (e.g., federal and state “universal service funds”)! Their original reasoning? It would be too expensive to build a network and not have a guaranteed customer base to repay the debt!
    If we wamt to help UTOPIA, a state senator and house representative should sponsor bills to remove the shackles the legislature put on UTOPIA in the first place by repealing Title 10, Chapter 18, Section 201 of the Utah Code, Limitations on providing a cable television and public telecommunications services, and let it truly compete as a retail equal in the marketplace, not as a chained and hobbled wholesale provider. Only then will you see the incumbent monopolies lower their prices.
    I, for one, am waiting for the day when I can get real high-speed services in a competitive marketplace, not the pitiful expensive offerings of the incumbent service providers.

  6. J. Lee says:

    I’ve made a few maps kml files for the Murray, Midvale, and Centerville areas. Helpful if you are looking at moving to Utah and quickly determining if the home you are buying/renting is covered.

    Murray & Midvale Utah Utopia Fiber Coverage
    Centerville Utah Utopia Fiber Coverage

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