The long knives come out: Tribune articles on UTOPIA

Bad news sells, and the Tribune seems to think that business is good. Over the weekend, they published a long series of articles on UTOPIA that follow the all-too-standard pattern of raking the network over the coals with many of the same rehashed arguments from years past. Four of the nine articles make reference to network debt in their headlines (often spuriously), and eight of them use negative references there. Despite the overly negative tone of the coverage (no doubt fueled by the opinions of the editorial staff), there’s a few pieces of useful and interesting information to be gleaned (not to mention corrections to be made). Continue reading

The Alternate Reality of the Standard-Examiner

The Standard-Examiner published an anti-UTOPIA editorial yesterday that, quite frankly, makes me wonder if some sort of illicit substances are in use by their editorial board. Granted, these kinds of opinion pieces are not uncommon, but this one sets a new “standard” in incoherence and inaccuracy. Allow me to “examine” the various ways in which their editorial could only make sense in a conveniently parallel dimension.

Fife wondered why suggested prices quoted by Beehive Broadband are so pricey…

Actually, $45 per month for service is actually not too shabby. The only plan that Comcast offers near that price is both a temporary 6-month introductory offer and significantly less speed. It also undercuts Beehive’s own pricing on their own FTTH network ($60/mo and up to a $895 install) for what I can assume is less speed (20Mbps both ways). On UTOPIA, they charge either $45 per month (half of which disappears in about 20 years) or $22 per month with a $2750 install cost. In a pure apples-to-apples comparison, UTOPIA is offering a very competitive price, especially when you compare like speeds (or as like as you can get) from Comcast and CenturyLink. But they deny this reality as well:

If the Beehive Broadband deal is approved, customers will still have to pay Internet prices that frankly, are not very much different from prices that can be found in the private sector.

Oh really? Comcast charges around $60/mo for 25Mbps down, 4Mbps up. CenturyLink will do 40Mbps down, 5Mbps up for the same price. XMission and InfoWest are happy to sell you a 50Mbps bi-directional connection for that much, and $23 of that monthly cost vanishes when you’ve paid off the connection.

The fact-free piece doesn’t end there, though. Consider this gem:

While elected officials in UTOPIA-yoked cities are for the most part, too stubborn to admit they made a mistake hooking up with the public/private group…

Wait, what? Cities didn’t join UTOPIA, cities¬†created UTOPIA. It’s their baby. As much as choice elected officials like to disown it for cheap political points, that’s about as asinine as insisting that the fire department is a separate entity.

While it’s pretty obvious that the editorial board is already failing math and civics, they decide to flunk out on history as well.

And again, as mentioned, while UTOPIA may provide quality services, the prices are still similar to what could have been garnered without cities having shelled out millions in dollars.

That’s another thing that just isn’t so. Brigham City tried for years to get Comcast and Qwest to deploy more broadband with no success. Lindon even offered to pay them for it and was declined. Tremonton residents could barely get 1.5Mbps DSL, a connection that would have been top-notch more than a decade ago. Once they decided to join UTOPIA, higher-end services magically became feasible in their town and the incumbents got busy digging. Had they not joined, what would they have right now?

I don’t necessarily have an issue with someone opposing UTOPIA. I do, however, have a problem with people who have zero grasp of the facts and try to do so. It appears that the editorial board of the Standard-Examiner is such an uninformed group, although to such a degree as to have me question if they are perhaps in the wrong line of work. We expect our journalists to dig in a find facts, a task to which they appear to be ill-suited.

UTOPIA Sued: Is there really a story here?

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Chris Hogan, one of UTOPIA’s former execs, has filed a suit against the agency over violations of his employment contract. The suit alleges that consulting firm TetraTech was awarded an improper contract for network construction because Executive Director Todd Marriott’s brother is a manger there. The suit also alleges that Hogan’s replacement, Gary Jones, is Marriott’s neighbor.¬†Now I’ve got friends on both sides of this, so this is where I tread very, very lightly.

I can’t speak to Mr. Jones’ qualifications, but I do know that UTOPIA has done plenty of business with TetraTech in the past. They are also a very large multi-national corporation with offices across the world, including two here in Salt Lake County. Even with the blood relationship between the Marriotts, I don’t see that this would necessarily disqualify TetraTech from being a candidate, especially if the work they did in the past was up-to-par.

UTOPIA has also told me that Hogan’s contract was up for renewal and they opted to not renew it. Obviously, I don’t have any details beyond that, but the timing does seem to coincide with my recollection of when he was brought on. Assuming an annual contract, the timing would likely fit.

The Tribune, however, doesn’t dive into any of this background to provide essential context here. I also noticed that they did not include any statements from UTOPIA to provide balance to the story, though I imagine with pending litigation, they can’t really say too much anyway. This is the far too common behavior I’ve come to expect from Utah’s major media outlets when it comes to UTOPIA. They present very one-sided stories and practically cheerlead for UTOPIA’s failure from the editorial pages. There are two sides to every story, but outlets like the Tribune and Deseret “News” are only concerned with the doom-and-gloom side that moves papers.