- What’s this all about?
- Who runs this site?
- Where exactly do you work again?
- How can I contact you?
- Do you accept user submissions?
- What’s municipal broadband?
- Why would I be interested in municipal broadband?
- Isn’t municipal broadband subsidized by tax dollars?
- Doesn’t this mean the government is competing with private business?
- What cities are participating in UTOPIA?
- What if my city isn’t participating?
- I’m not in an incorporated city. What can I do?
- What can I do to help UTOPIA succeed?
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.