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.

Around of August 2008, Jonathan Karras and Mike Taylor contributed articles to the site for several months.

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. Aside from someone occasionally buying me lunch to pick my brain, I haven’t received any compensation for my efforts here. Mind-blowing, I know. If you want a more detailed response, I’ve written one here.

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 Google Hangouts (elforesto@gmail.com).

There’s also an official site Twitter account (@FreeUTOPIA), Facebook fan page, and Google+ 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.

What kind of journalist are you?

I get accused of being a journalist on a fairly regular basis. Be confident that outside of blogging (primarily here), I have no experience or training that could possibly qualify me as a journalist. In fact, you may notice that the site’s tagline calls it “municipal fiber advocacy”. If you want “real” journalism, go pick up one of Utah’s many daily newspapers.

Why are you trying to give things away you pinko commie bedwetter?!

Libre, not gratis. You should read up on that. The site name is a play on “Free Kevin”, the rallying cry of people who wanted Kevin Mitnick to not be charged with a crime for his social engineering. It’s been rather extensively parodied.

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 if enough people sign up for service. SFCN puts around $500K annually back in to the city’s general fund. UTOPIA itself hasn’t met expectations and runs at a deficit. The plan being proposed by Macquarie eliminates the operational deficit and will likely cover at least some of the existing bond payments.

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 XMission, Veracity Networks, and SumoFiber 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 CenturyLink 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. Bear in mind that as Macquarie is working on a proposal with UTOPIA, this is somewhat out-of-date even if the general principles apply.

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.

20 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

  7. D. Hoyt says:

    First of all, it is NOT FREE like you are trying to claim. Everyone will have to pay in order for a few to benefit from from UTOPIA. Also, what the people who get UTOPIA will actually get is nothing compared to what we are already getting from different technology. The people who sign up will only get 3Mb up and down speeds. That is incredibly slow compared to other technologies available. Also, there is a cap for what they will get at 20 Gb per month, if they go over that amount like most households with children will do what happens? They will have to pay more for the “free” service. Why should we have to pay for something when we will never use it? What happens to UTOPIA in a few years when technology outpaces the need for it? We have seen technologies come and go in just the short time that the internet has been around, what guarantees that UTOPIA will still be relevant at the end of the 10 year period that we have to be paying the Aussies?

    I bet you don’t post this because it goes against everything that you are espousing in this website.

    What are you getting paid to run this site and by whom? I think people should be told the truth about this site. Come clean!!

    • Jesse says:

      I never once claimed anything was free. Perhaps you should do a search on “gratis versus libre”. You’ll find the results somewhat illuminating.

      The 3Mbps plan is part of the utility fee. You can purchase 100Mbps service for $55/mo or 1Gbps service for $70/mo. That includes the utility fee. Both of those include 1TB of data, far in excess of Comcast’s proposed 350GB cap.

      If you read the Milestone One report carefully, you’ll note that network refreshes are included. By the time the next refresh is due, 10Gbps electronics will be about what 1Gbps electronics are now.

      Funny enough, the answers to each and every one of your questions is found on various posts on the site.

      And I’m completely unpaid for my work here. If you go back to the first post on the site, you can see where I started the site in August of 2006, almost eight years ago. If you don’t believe me, you’re free to call me up. A lot of people do.

    • Greg says:

      Couple of things you also need to take into consideration:

      “What the people get with UTOPIA is nothing compared to what they already get”…Well, what I get with Comcast is a 25 Mbps connection (down) and 5 Mbps (up) for $65/mo. Utopia, with the fee, is $55, and I get 4x the bandwidth, and at least 3x the data cap. Also, I get the option of going with the service provider that treats me right; I no longer have to deal with a service provider that knows I don’t have options.

      “If they go over that amount they will have to pay more”. Well, if a household with children goes over that amount, chances are they already have a service provider. Well, there is good news for them! One: their service provider will be forced to lower prices, because if they don’t, customers will leave in droves for a better service and price. Two: UTOPIA will offer a better service at a competitive price; I know my internet bill will drop by at least $10/mo. and that includes the utility fee.

      Fiber is fast, and it will remain fast until we can exceed the speed of light. If by some chance we accomplish this, you can bet that the technology powering those speeds won’t be cheap for a long time (even 10Gbps is still very expensive). Fiber will still be relevant in the near, and distant future.

  8. Pamela says:

    I live in a condo complex in Orem that has been wired for Utopia since around 2006. I’ve checked into internet access through a Utopia provider several times, and it’s always more expensive than the other options available. I suppose if you need more bandwidth, it might make sense, but otherwise it hasn’t been worth it, financially. AND my neighbors have said they’ve had a lot of problems with it – I don’t know what those problems have been.

    • Jesse says:

      MDUs (like condos) are always very tricky. Often what happens is that the management company purchases a single connection and splits it between all the units. That often leads to pretty poor performance and, since the management company is the actual customer, poor customer service.

      Given the age of the connections, I’m going to guess your neighbors may have had service through MStar and later Prime Time Communications (who bought them out). Both companies are defunct and didn’t do the best job at service. But that’s the great thing about the network. If one provider stinks, you can switch to another one.

  9. Ronald D. Hunt says:

    Condo association likely has agree with Comcast, and gets below market rates for service. This is very common, multidwelling units generally get better pricing, prior to 2006? The cable company could make exclusive contracts with these types of HOA’s/apartment owners, to prevent other providers or satellite companies from accessing these customers.

    It may appear cheaper but you should check your HOA agreement and the HOA manager to make sure your “cheap” service isn’t being charged somewhere else. These types of agreements are supposed to be illegal now, but many are grandfathered in, or have been renewed regardless.

  10. Michael W Steenblik says:

    Just found out they want 3k to put in my service and then I own it. What crap! Sad part is I installed this stuff back in ’05-’06 and have all the tools, fiber and splicer to make it happen. I am not staying in my home for more then 10 years, why would I want to own my drop? What can I do to help with this process?

    I’d like to pay 60 dollars for my 50/50 and voice plan without a $30 dollar lifetime addition for Utopia to line there pockets because of a horribly bad business model and corrupted Officials.

    • Jesse says:

      You’re not just paying for the connection from the curb to the house. You’re also assuming part of the debt of building the rest of the network from the curb to their NOC.

      Also bear in mind that while the install is $3K, it usually adds about $5K to the value of your home. There aren’t many improvements you can make with that kind of ROI, and it can only help when you sell your house.

      • Michael W Steenblik says:

        I’m in full support of this Macquarie deal, but me paying off someone else’s bad debt is out of the question. Let alone when I know I’m moving in 10yrs or less. Also, whom is responsible at that point of you purchasing that line of fixing a cut fiber, down power pole and rebuild or bad equipment/media converter that’s in the home. Way to many “go wrongs” with that kind of investment. I also think your up in the night with that kind of return on investment. Fiber to the home adding 5k. NO WAY! I just bought my home, Just sold a home, looked at homes all over the valley. This is not a concern of a home buyer, it would in no way add that kind of value. To many people are still ignorant to what, how and why’s of the fiber world. I’d love to see where you got your info on that kind of ROI? I just, 5 minutes ago spoke to my Realtor and he said your WAY OFF. Fact of the matter is if I wait and this deal goes through then I save 3k. I pay for it now i’m out 3k. The deal doesn’t happen and I paid 3k, and I will not recoup those in any ROI. A home buyer already expects, water pipes, gas pipes and sewer to be in the home. The expectation of cable, phone or other utility already being available to the home is also had by the Home owner/purchaser… that said, if the utility company wants the home owners business then they will get it to the home. Just as Comcast did when I moved my service. They trenched a 100′ line to my house. NO COST. As a home owner I expected that.

        I spliced fiber, and installed CAP’s (customer access points) for UTOPIA. I know how much trouble they were in way back in 2006. I understand what fiber is, does, works and the benefit’s to me. The average home owner does not. Also, this will never be free fiber. 5meg service is great but its on the City’s utility bill. Saying free fiber is like saying I get free garbage pick up, water and sewer. LOL

        Like I said, I hope this deal goes through. As and educated person I’m willing to pay for the utility and smart enough to upgrade it after they install it to the home at THERE cost. As for now I get to be a very frustrated Comcast customer. At least my contract will be up and not cost me $200 to cancel.

        • Jesse says:

          If you live in a UTOPIA city, it’s your debt. The city will have to pay it off one way or another. The install fee is a way to shift the burden away from taxpayers as a whole to just subscribers.

          And yes, it really does increase your home value an average of $5K: https://gigaom.com/2014/07/23/fiber-its-is-good-for-your-digestion-and-your-home-value/ If your realtor doesn’t know that, fire your realtor.

          Whether you pay the $3K now or wait for the utility fee, you’re going to pay. Macquarie already has it in the deal that anyone who has paid for installation or has financed it will not be subject to the utility fee. You’ll have to pick your proverbial poison.

          Comcast didn’t charge you an up-front fee, but they build the installation cost in to every single month of service. That cost never goes away. At least with UTOPIA, they tell you how much it costs and it will eventually be over and done with.

          The free tier of service is figured into the cost of network operations. The service providers have all agreed that the cost to deliver that service is small enough that they consider it a reasonable advertising cost to upsell premium services. They’ve been saying that since MS1.

  11. Michael W Steenblik says:

    “If you live in a UTOPIA city, it’s your debt. The city will have to pay it off one way or another. The install fee is a way to shift the burden away from taxpayers as a whole to just subscribers.” If I pay 3k now I don’t recoup that EVER… (more on this later). I live in Brigham City, Therefor if the deal goes through I will pay a utility. You said subscribers..ummm it will be everyone as we are all subscribers at the point the deal is made. unless I already paid up front. “pick my proverbial poison” you say. So I see your point! Up front or taxed, eerrr utility that is the question. Sounds like Obama Care doesn’t it? If I live here 8 years at 22.60 that’s less then 2.2k and that’s if they don’t raise the rate. Also sounds like I won’t get it for a year or two so now we are less then 2k. The bad part of this deal is the utility will not go away, and your crazy if you think it will. Just like Social Security and Welfare it will be around to stay once the city’s have that $$$ coming in. So, your right in as much as people need to decide their what and when’s in the matter and how much it may cost them. Fact of the matter is no body cares enough and people are not aware that a fiber cable may run down there backyard. That makes my next point.

    Now about your ROI comment…this sounds like you believe everything you read on the internet. HAHAHA, I laugh at your intellect. My Realtor whom has been very very good to me and his clients and does not need to be fired. Look at the market, look at homes, look at listings. Fiber does not effect the sale or value. I looked at 15 homes in the area, Not one mention of said Fiber or possibilities of fiber. NO ONE HAS IT>>>DUH!!! There is nothing a utility does to add value to a home. That is crazy horse crap talk! Its like saying this home is 5k more because you have culinary and secondary water. Painting your door the right color and new carpet is worth more to a home buyer than Fiber. When you look at prices of a home in Provo, Orem, Murray, West Valley, Brigham City, and others NONE of the home values have been affected by Fiber. BTW, Centrylink now has fiber in some of those areas. Still no effect. Wishful thinking!

    • Jesse says:

      I can see your point that if you plan to move, you may not find any value in paying up front. That said, if you pay up front and sell your house, the lack of a utility fee may be a selling point, no? I know I evaluated total utility costs when I bought a home. But yes, you’ll pay at least something towards the cost to deploy the infrastructure one way or another. Them’s the breaks.

      I see the claim all the time that the utility fee will never go away or be reduced with sufficient revenues. If your city council is so terrible that they wouldn’t try to reduce or eliminate it as much as possible, that’s an issue entirely separate from UTOPIA. Maybe it’s time to run for city council?

      My source for the home values is the Fiber to the Home Council. This claim has been fact-checked by some of the largest and most respected tech publications in the world. I’m going to trust that a lot more than a realtor I don’t know from Adam’s cat. You should too. (PS Another separate study shows that a lack of good broadband can knock up to 20% off the value of your home: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2571294/Having-slow-broadband-knock-20-house-price-fast-download-speed-vital-homebuyers.html)

      As for the claim that CenturyLink offers fiber… that’s like saying a Pop-Tart has fruit. They do fiber to the node, not to the home, and it’s why their speeds have been stuck at 40Mbps downstream for about 7 years now (in those areas fortunate enough to not be stuck on 12Mbps vanilla DSL).

      I’ve been doing this broadband reporting thing for over eight years. I know more than a little about this space.

  12. Michael W Steenblik says:

    LOL…maybe I should run for City Council.

    People are not educated enough to know the diff between NODE or HOME. I get it! You get it! but few others do.

    Get realistic about your home numbers. Maybe, there is a middle ground but 5k to a home value. A fully landscaped yard doesn’t even do that. Your Home values are skewed because its a “Fiber” counsel. Of course they would think what they are reporting or you are reading. Go to the source. that’s people that sale homes. Trusting Tech counsels and Fiber boards to value your home. Again, I question your intellect here! That’s like saying lets have government run our healthcare..Oops! or lets have Google run logistics of Trains and airplanes. It doesn’t work that way! Broadband whether fiber, copper, wireless, or satellite is to readily available now. 20% is an Asinine number. REALLY? 20% of my value had to do with broadband that’s a number of like 20k for my house. I didn’t even put that down on my home… LOL! I call complete bull shit on those numbers and you would have a hard time ever convincing me otherwise. Like I said, go to the source of home sales!

    We will agree to disagree at this point or I’ll be up all night arguing with you.

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