U-CAN Report: September 2008

The name of the game is frustration. Residents in Brigham City are eager to see UTOPIA get deployed, but they’re a bit sour on the Real Soon Now(TM) deployment date, one they’ve heard and seen missed before. Many aren’t going to wait around forever, instead going for cable modem, DSL and even wireless or cellular connections to sate their high-speed cravings. Some have even gone so far as to use ISDN to move away from dial-up connections.

The problem is the uncertainty. Without certainty of a specific date and location of deployment, residents are willing to sign lengthy contracts with existing providers instead of holding out for UTOPIA service sometime in the future. I’m personally confident that Brigham and neighboring Perry will see the first homes and businesses lit by year’s end. That means little to residents that want to support UTOPIA but feel as if they have been left in the dark for far too long. There’s also still lingering questions on what the install fees will be, if any. Qwest and Comcast hammered UTOPIA on the possibility and that leaves residents spooked.

Still, it’s encouraging to see that residents are supportive of UTOPIA and are eager to see it come to town. What it will take now is walking the walk, hooking up services to subscribers, in order to win over the city.

U-CAN Meetings for September

U-CAN Meetings will be held this month in Brigham City and West Valley City. Due to the lengthy travel time involved in getting up to Brigham City, no meetings will be held this month in Utah or Davis Counties. The meeting in Brigham City will be held at the Brigham City Carnegie Library at 26 E Forest St and the West Valley meeting will be held at the Hunter Library at 4740 W 4100 S. As usual, all are encouraged to attend (even the resident mole from Frontier Communications).

UPDATE: In my haste to publish, I forgot to mention dates and times. WVC is on the 25th at 7PM and Brigham City is on the 27th at noon.

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.

U-CAN Report: July 29 2008, Holladay

The third meeting of U-CAN was held last night in the Holladay Library and was a great discussion on how to add value to UTOPIA and make it more attractive to customers. In particular, content providers are eager to use the high bandwidth offered to offer up high-resolution live performances as well as more locally-produced content. Equipment makes are also chomping at the bit to find a provider interested in using the “cool toys” they produce to make use of the 100Mbit and 1Gbit pipes running into homes. It’s very encouraging to see these groups recognize the value of the network and want to work with service providers to encourage more widespread deployment and distribution.

  • Redman Movies rents equipment to the local film industry and sees all kind of possibilities for delivering the finished product via UTOPIA. Some ideas included simulcasting live sporting events, concerts or theatre performances, offering up HD content in native 1080p and even looking down the road at 3D television.
  • TenX Networks builds all kinds of network appliances including DVRs, home media servers, video surveillance and conferencing equipment and VoIP setups. Using a high-bandwidth network to up the video quality instead of trying to squeeze more and more out of compression algoriths seems like a winning bet with the kinds of things they want to offer.
  • We spent a lot of time talking about what incumbents are doing better. Comcast has done a particularly good job at offering local programming be it Sundance films, high school sports or LDS General Conference. Qwest can push ubiquity and bundling as key selling points. As regular commenter Capt. Video has often stated, UTOPIA needs to do more to offer products and services that differentiate themselves. Currently, video offerings are very… vanilla. I hope that will improve as new providers with different services jump on.
  • UTOPIA is apparently reworking the transport fees as part of the reorganization. This will probably result in terms much more amenable to service providers. In the meeting, it was brought up that one service provider who expressed interest was asked to pay $500K just to get a seat at the table. Sounds like that is gone. Service providers who haven’t taken another look at UTOPIA lately should consider doing so.
  • XMission has had to delay their VoIP offerings until this fall. Part of the problem is the reworking of the transport fees. The other part was that the original plan was to buy services from Veracity, a plan that fell through when Broadweave stepped into the picture. They have since decided to run all of the phone switching in-house to avoid these external dependencies. You should expect the product to be rock-solid as a result, especially given XMission’s high level of technical competence.
  • We also talked wireless again, except this time in the context of it being used as a temporary measure to provide service until fiber can be run all of the way. I don’t think this is the best option because of the problems it introduces. First, you can’t deliver triple-play on wireless because of the bandwidth limitations. Second, you run the risk of signing up a lot of low-end customers that never upgrade to the fiber product. Third, it conflicts with the core mission to build a world-class fiber infrastructure to sell to service providers. Fourth, it creates a poor perception problem that UTOPIA is abandoning its mission to build fiber in favor of the quick buck. There are good points in favor such as signing up customers on a low-end product to generate immediate revenues and interest, but I don’t think it’s a good long-term strategy. I still think wireless has a place as a complementary rather than a foundation infrastructure.

I’m still waiting for final confirmation, but I believe we should be having the next regular meeting of U-CAN at the Central Branch of the Davis County Library in Layton on August 23 at noon. More details to follow.

U-CAN Report: July 26 2008, Orem

Today’s meeting of U-CAN in Orem went really well with some good attendance. Residents are largely frustrated at the delays and lack of information as to when UTOPIA would be deployed in their area and are very interested in having the network succeed. We had one of the UTOPIA NOC employees on-hand today (he moved from the iProvo NOC) as well as a consultant who’s been working with some of the new prospective service providers and a lot of good information came forth.

  • An established triple-play provider is really close to joining the network once they negotiate transport fees and they plan to market primarily to residences. This should be announced within a few weeks. Those of you looking for an Mstar alternative, look no more!
  • It’s possible to order different services from different providers, but the providers don’t really know how to do it. One example of this is a subscriber who has data from XMission, voice from Nuvont and video from Mstar. If you have trouble getting the provider to offer you an unbundled service, contact your rep on the UTOPIA board to get it moving.
  • UTOPIA isn’t currently equipped to handle adding new pledging cities. If you’ve been trying to get your city council on board, you need to step back and wait for a bit. Most city councils want to see how things function with the new financing and leadership before committing anyway.
  • Paul Recanzone was kind enough to show us some footprint maps of where service can be found in Orem. Stick to central parts of the city to ensure that service is available and always do a check for it before moving.
  • One interesting possibility was to market UTOPIA to cell phone providers to offer backhaul for their towers. The decreased transport fees make sense for Cricket, Sprint, AT&T, etc. and UTOPIA could bag a lot of revenue in the process.
  • UTOPIA may look at adding wireless to the fiber backbone, either via 802.11g/n or 802.16 (WiMax). This would allow voice providers to do cellular service. In the case of WiMax, it would also allow roaming on Clearwire and allow for service outside of the Wasatch Front. That’s just in the idea stage, so don’t count on seeing anything soon.
  • One meeting attendee said that he was aware of Qwest and Comcast purposefully planting moles in UTOPIA providers to try and sabotage the companies from within and that this was a primary cause of Mstar’s near-collapse. I know they’re underhanded, but I’m not sure to what extent they’d try and do something quite this dirty.

Next U-CAN Meeting: July 26 in Orem

The next meeting of the UTOPIA Citizen’s Advisory Network (U-CAN) will be held on Saturday July 26th at noon in the Commission for Economic Development Office (CEDO) conference room at 777 S State St in Orem. As usual, anyone interested in getting more information about UTOPIA, getting updates on the progress of the network or helping UTOPIA succeed is welcome to join.

I’m also working on something a little less formal on Tuesday July 29th in the evening for Salt Lake County as an interim meeting. Announcements will be made as I firm up a location.