Macquarie is probably dead, and that’s probably okay

macquarie_logo_2638While I wasn’t able to attend the latest UTOPIA board meeting (bit of a drive from Cedar City), I did get a summary of what was discussed during that meeting. One of the things that came up was the long-delayed Macquarie deal. For all intents and purposes, it’s most likely not going to happen. There appears to be slow action on a binding public vote and the utility fee was very unpopular (and wasn’t coming down). The board has voted to pay Macquarie what they are due and take those reports as valuable information to plan for the future with no further action. Right now, that’s probably okay.

Think back to when Macquarie first entered the picture. The network wasn’t expanding much if at all, mostly because the focus was on signing up commercial customers to plug the operating expenses gap as quickly as possible. Several cities had openly rancorous relationships with UTOPIA despite being stakeholders in it. Heck, Oremites ran an initiative petition to overturn… I’m not sure what exactly, but dagnabit they were certain that an angry public arglebargle session would save them about a hojillion dollars.

Fast forward a little over two years. UTOPIA is probably in the best shape it has ever been in. They have or will soon hit operational break even, where all operating expenses are now covered by revenues. Between remaining UIA money and the RUS settlement, they have operating capital they can use to expand the network. In fact, expansion is now underway in Perry, Layton, Midvale, and West Valley City. All of the expansion is being done to demand and the cost is landing squarely on subscribers.

Even the public attitude is different. I don’t see baseless fact-free editorials against it with any notable frequency. Even the Utah Taxpayers Association has gone uncharacteristically silent. Orem elected pro-UTOPIA candidates. Murray has been actively working on ways to maximize the network in their city. Payson reportedly even shows up to board meetings with regularity now. From many sources, I hear less “how do we get rid of it” and more “how do I get it in my house”. The importance of competitive, fairly priced, and high performance broadband has entered the mass consciousness in a way that I haven’t seen it before. Most importantly, highly visible failures by incumbents to deliver the kind of broadband nirvana they’ve been promising for decades has made the public highly cynical to their claims.

There is still work to do. UTOPIA has a lot of network to build to serve every address in member cities. There are a lot of areas badly neglected by incumbents that don’t have any kind of viable competition. Google is great for those that have it but creates a lot of have nots and replaces one duopolist with another. The companies who are doing interesting competitive things can’t really do it at scale. Despite these challenges, one thing is certain.

We won the war.

Yes, I’m declaring victory. It’s taken nearly 10 years of running this blog, but the hearts and minds part of the game is more-or-less over. It’s all mop-up operations from here, scattered battles that I think we’ll have little trouble seeing through to victory.

PS No, this blog isn’t going anywhere. I’m working on improving broadband options in Cedar City (since I live here now) and will still be an advocate for UTOPIA and municipal broadband systems. Those jobs are just going to be a lot easier when I’m not re-hashing the same old debate I’ve been used to for a decade.

Broadband Bytes for 2016-02-19

SB114 allows non-binding votes on muni telecom

It’s really feeling weird to talk about positive things the legislature is doing with muni telecom rather than rallying the troops to shoot down the awful stuff. In that vein is Sen. Jerry Stevenson’s SB114, a bill to allow cities to do a non-binding vote on how their citizens feel about doing muni telecom with a brief description of the model to be used. While cities aren’t required to take any action on the results, it would be nice to at least get a feel for if a given model actually has popular support or not. That’s something that has been lacking in many of the raucous meetings of two years ago as the Macquarie deal was discussed.

It’s not quite a solid as a binding option, but there are already provisions in law requiring a binding public vote before a city can issue bonds. It also seems a little duplicative with HB275 in the mix, though SB114 has a more precise area of code being effected (plus a much higher chance of being passed). If nothing else, it’s a step in the right direction.

Broadband Bytes for 2016-02-12

A way forward on Macquarie? HB275 could pave the road

macquarie_logo_2638One of the big obstacles to Macquarie moving forward has been the lack of a binding public vote option. After the craziness in Orem with a citizen referendum overturning council action, I can’t see that they would be too keen to make a contract that can be unexpectedly nullified. Unfortunately, Utah Code doesn’t allow for such a thing… yet.

Rep Patrice Arent (D-Millcreek) is sponsoring HB275 which would allow for non-binding public questions to be added to ballots. While this wouldn’t be more than a poll in its current form, it’s not impossible that it could be extended to include the kind of binding vote that Macquarie is looking for. It’s probably too late to make those kinds of changes now (the best time to start on a bill is about six months ago), but passing it could lay the groundwork to extend it in the 2017 session.

My advice? Start contacting Rep Arent a few weeks after the session is over to see if she’s willing to run with it.

UTOPIA announces Roger Timmerman as the new executive director

utopia-logoAfter two years of searching, UTOPIA has announced that Roger Timmerman will be returning from Vivint Wireless to be the new executive director. You may recall that Roger was involved both with UTOPIA and iProvo since the early days (2004, to be exact), so he’s bringing a pretty deep understanding of both fiber and municipal networks to the table. I was sad to see Roger go (and you all know how I feel about Vivint), so I’m glad to have him back.

With UTOPIA reaching operational break even and starting to build more network in more places, now is a good time to have someone back in the captain’s chair. I hear that in addition to expansions in Midvale, West Valley City, and Layton, the city of Perry is getting a full deployment. Orem also has new councilmember (and UTOPIA supporter) Sam Lentz as their member of the UIA board, so it’s possible that there may be some movement there as well.

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Broadband Bytes for 2016-02-05

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Broadband Bytes for 2016-01-22

Broadband Bytes for 2016-01-15