What does the broadband stimulus mean for UTOPIA?

Now that UTOPIA has $16.2M in federal funding, the question is what it’s going to do. The money itself is specifically to hook up “anchor institutions” such as schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, and government buildings. This money will be used to run fiber to over 400 buildings in Perry, Payson, Midvale, Murray, Centerville, Layton, Orem, and West Valley City. With those connections in the ground, it will be much less expensive to build out to nearby neighborhoods. That is, provided that your city joined the UIA and is willing to finance the cost of installations. A few cities are either in opposition to or on the fence about joining the UIA, so the fiber would stop at those anchor institutions. Time is limited to get them on the boat, so make sure you’re hounding them about joining.

And if you want to, go take a look at the original press release.

Utah Infrastructure Agency Moving Forward

Remember UTOPIA’s new plan to shift the cost of the network from the cities onto subscribers? It’s been moving forward in the form of the Utah Infrastructure Agency, a way for cities to bond for construction without having to put taxpayers as a whole on the hook. So far, West Valley City, Lindon, Midvale, Layton, and Orem are on board with Perry and Tremonton deciding to sit it out. Other cities are still considering signing up for it and need to hear from you.

So what exactly does this do? In short, it’s the next evolution beyond the SAA used in Brigham City. The SAA model was to  find demand, form an SAA, and then get the funds to start construction. The UIA will, instead, get the money first, find the areas of demand, and then start construction once it becomes feasible. Just like the SAA, the subscribers that get hooked up under the arrangement will be the ones footing the bill. This speeds up the process of connecting customers while still continuing to shift the burden of supporting the network away from cities and onto those who get service.

To be quite honest, I can’t see why a city wouldn’t be all over this. There’s no cost to the cities to participate and increased subscribers will only decrease or eliminate the called pledges. Given the benefits to the taxpayer, that they are taken off the hook, you’d think the Utah “Taxpayers” Association would be all for it. (Fat chance, I know.) The good news is that any city that doesn’t elect to participate now can always reconsider in the future. If your city has already declined to join (or does so in the future), you can still pester them until they reconsider.

Note: While Orem was part of the founding group of the UIA, they haven’t taken an official vote on the matter yet. There will be a public hearing on Tuesday after which the Orem City Council will decide if they will join. They chose the new bond in a 6-0 vote last time around, but the UTA is holding their rally just before the meeting to try and pack the house with opponents and scare council members into reversing course. It’s very important that UTOPIA supporters turn out in force both at the rally and the meeting to thwart these efforts. I hear there’s going to be a fun surprise for the UTA during their BBQ, so show up and be prepared for a laugh at their expense.

Layton Mayor Curtis Takes Aim at the UTA

Apparently I’m not the only one sick of the Utah “Taxpayers” Association and their constant vuvuzela-like drone. Layton Mayor Steve Curtis is getting sick of their spiel too.

Mayor Steve Curtis said UTOPIA, and the cities involved in it, have been transparent. “There isn’t anything we are doing behind closed doors,” he said.

The association has been opposed to UTOPIA from the beginning, Curtis said. “And if there is a way and means to stir the public, they go about it,” he said.

Curtis said he also disagrees with the association’s assumption that the public pledges being made available to the project are on the rise.

This is the kind of elected official needed in UTOPIA cities, just like Mayor Winder of West Valley City. It’s about time that the cities started sticking up for themselves and their decisions against the telecom guns-for-hire representing themselves as some kind of public advocate. You’re on notice, UTA: we’re all pretty sick of your lies.

Special Note: The UTA is still a bunch of cowards. They never responded to my challenge to a debate and refuse to respond on their Twitter account. Royce Van Tassell will also abandon any discussion thread on FaceBook about UTOPIA once I jump on. What a bunch of wusses.

Broadband Stimulus Applicants Revealed

As of a couple of days ago, applicants for broadband stimulus funds are now listed on the NTIA’s website. Utah has a number of applicants including the University of Utah, The Utah Transit Authority, and, not surprisingly, UTOPIA.

Several rural ILECs have also gotten into the game including Emery Telecom and Manti Tele Communications. Emery is apparently looking to deploy FTTP to beef up their triple-play offerings and replace their existing HFC CATV network. The finished product would be active Ethernet like iProvo and UTOPIA with up to 1Gbps at each address served. A separate request would use FTTN and wireless to reach more remote areas. Manti, meanwhile, is looking to use WiMax to reach more remote areas that currently do not have broadband service. Both of these projects are good news for Utahns.

Ogden City has also made an application to provide broadband access to government services and underserved residents. There is also an application for what appears to be a city-wide WiFi network. Given their reluctance to join UTOPIA, it’s rather surprising that they have done an about-face on city-provided services. My best guess is that they were holding out for someone else to pay for it.

So what about UTOPIA? They made three separate applications totaling around $54M. The only thing available is a general overview, but the requests appear to be targeted at Orem, Murray, Midvale, West Valley City, Layton, and Centerville. One of them hints at using a special assessment area (SAA) to triple the impact of at least $10.5M of the money applied for. Depending on how fast NTIA can review and approve applications, we may soon know if there will be more money for UTOPIA construction in the near term.

With applicants asking for 7 times what’s available in the first round, it will be interesting to see who makes the cut.

Layton Languishing: No New UTOPIA Construction for 1-2 Years

I received word from a reader that an engineer with Layton City has indicated that new UTOPIA construction in the city will be on hold for at least a year, possibly as long as two years. The existing fiber will be served, but new installs will now entirely depend on either developers or members of a special assessment area to foot the bill. The city blames the slow economy and lack of federal funding for the halt in construction. Given that the first tranches of broadband stimulus funding from the feds is meant for rural and underserved areas, I wouldn’t count on any federal assistance to get things moving anytime soon.

(h/t: Dan Langford)

UTOPIA in Layton

The Standard has an article on UTOPIA’s launch in Layton with some more details as to how things are going. UTOPIA reportedly is available in an 1800-home footprint in Layton and is up to a 20% take rate so far with 40% of visited homes taking service. There’s now reportedly more than 8,000 subscribers, not a big increase from numbers about a year ago (7200), but it has taken a few months post-financing to really pick up steam.

UTOPIA Open House in Layton, March 17

According to a flyer that a friend of mine received, Layton Mayor Steve Curtis and UTOPIA will be holding an Open House Tuesday, March 17th 2009 from 11:00 AM to 1:30 PM.  Layton Mayor Steve Curtis and UTOPIA CEO Todd Marriott will be making brief comments at 11:00 AM.  This open house will be held at the “Woody” Woodland Park, 1505 North 25 East, in Layton Utah.

Update: Just got ahold of this flyer, and it says “Please join us in welcoming UTOPIA to Layton.  Come see the UTOPIA Mobile Command Center and enjoy a live demonstration of the incredible capabilities of the UTOPIA Network”.

Is the wait over in Layton? UTOPIA service may be available!

Forum commenter mabuxton reports that they’re getting UTOPIA installed at their Layton home in just two weeks. XMission and two other providers (I’m guessing FuzeCore and Nuvont) are reportedly going to have residential service available in the area and you can sign up for the install right now. If you’ve been waiting with baited breath to get UTOPIA service in the city, now is the time to call!

U-CAN Meetings for August

The UTOPIA Citizens Advisory network will hold meetings this month in Layton, Taylorsville, and an as-of-yet undetermined location in or near Lindon. Layton’s meeting will be held on Saturday August 23rd at noon in the Davis County Central Branch Library at 155 N Wasatch Dr. Taylorsville’s meeting will be held on Thursday August 21st at 7PM in the Taylorsville Library at 4870 South 2700 West. I’m tentatively planning on Lindon’s meeting being on Tuesday August 19th at 7PM, but finding free meeting space in Utah County is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Any suggestions for a venue would be appreciated.

Report From the Initial Meeting of U-CAN

Today was the inaugural meeting of the UTOPIA Citizens Advisory Network or U-CAN for short. Attendance was about a dozen and we had some great conversations getting caught up on the status of UTOPIA and an idea of where it's going. Some highlights:

  • UTOPIA is looking at using Special Assessment Areas to expand services in non-member areas and unincorporated county lands. It's a voluntary tax increase in order to pay for deploying the network and doing the installation costs in a specified area that takes advantage of 15-year government bonds and the low interest rates they enjoy. The cost of installation will be assessed entirely to members of the SAA.
  • There's going to be some announcements soon on new service providers as soon as next week. Up to 4 could be announced over the next month and at least one is rumored to be interested in providing triple-play services.
  • The new bond closed in late May as planned, so we may yet see construction by August. The UTOPIA website is actively soliciting new employees, a Business Sales Director and Teams Coordinator, as well as an RFP for asset management software and services.
  • Speaking of UTOPIA's website, they are working on a new one with more updates and information. This will also include a mapping application to show you where the demand for UTOPIA is so you can find out if your neighborhood is higher or lower on the priority list.

Meetings are going to be held at least monthly and will rotate between the member cities to give everyone an equal chance to participate. I'm also planning on provisional monthly meetings outside of this rotation for Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties to encourage better participation in pledging member cities. The regular monthly meetings will be as follows:

  • July 2008: Orem (Utah County)
  • August 2008: Layton (Davis County)
  • September 2008: Brigham City (Box Elder County)
  • October 2008: Murray (Salt Lake County)
  • November 2008: Lindon (Utah County)
  • December 2008: Centerville (Davis County)

I'll announce the meeting times and locations here on the website as they are scheduled. Meetings will be tentatively planned for the 4th Saturday of the month at noon. If you want to receive U-CAN related announcements via e-mail, send a blank message to ucan-announce-subscribe@freeutopia.org to get on the mailing list.