UTOPIA Goes for Cheap Gigabit

Remember the rumblings about UTOPIA’s upcoming announcement last week? Well, it’s here, and its’ huge. Starting today, seven providers will be offering gigabit service for as low as $64.95/mo. If you’ve already paid off the connection fee, this makes it the same or less than Google Fiber in Provo on six of them. Here’s the full price list:

Of note is that UTOPIA has added another provider, WebWave. They’ve been using UTOPIA for backhaul to wireless towers in Davis County since May and are now going to be a full-fledged ISP on the network. With nine total providers to choose from, UTOPIA’s offering more competition for your business than ever.

If you’re content on the lower-priced tiers, SumoFiber and XMission have already switched all customers to 100Mbps. Are you planning to pony up a little more for 10x the speed? I know I would.

XMission Gives UTOPIA Customers a Free Speed Bump

If you’re using XMission on UTOPIA, you probably noticed a nice little bonus last night: all 50Mbps customers got a bump up to the full 100Mbps for no extra charge. There’s a few people left to be switched, but it should be done within a couple of days, tops.

One thing to note is that if you aren’t seeing those speeds, you may need to upgrade your router. Most routers, even newer ones, don’t include a 1Gbps WAN port which often serves as a bottleneck. Older 802.11 a/b/g routers also create choke points on the wireless side. All said, that’s a pretty nice problem to have, isn’t it?

Despite speed bumps, Comcast just can’t compete with UTOPIA

Comcast is still trying desperately to stay in the high-speed game, but they just can’t quite seem to pull it off. Their fastest tiers are now 105M/10M and 50M/10M, but with more than a few caveats. Both are $100/mo, but the faster tier requires that you subscribe to at least one other service, and the price is only for 12 months. After that, it skyrockets to $130/mo for the next year and an unspecified price thereafter. So how do UTOPIA providers compare?

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Fuzecore leaves UTOPIA, Xmission steps in

I’ve received final word that Fuzecore has decided to leave UTOPIA and has sent its customers over to Xmission. Part of the problem for the Idaho-based provider is that there just weren’t enough customers available on the network to make things work, the same problem Prime Time Communications found itself in. Xmission has graciously provided those customers with a month of free service during the transition and will honor all existing pricing arrangements, though in some cases customers have been bumped up to a higher speed at no extra charge. I applaud Fuzecore for making sure its customers are well-served on the way out the door and leaving with class. Tim McClanahan has always been open with me about what they’re up to and how they’re doing and I’m sure he’ll continue to do well back in Idaho.

Personally, I don’t think the network can sustain a large selection of providers in its current state. The slices of pie get just a bit too thin to make things work, especially with such a large service area to cover. I’m expecting the provider market to pare down to Xmission, Veracity, Brigham.net (though in a limited footprint in Brigham City) and a handful of commercial-only providers. Nuvont has been slowly dying for some time now and is rumored to be down to a scant two employees running the company. I’ve been watching ConnectedLyfe’s filings with the SEC and they continue to bleed cash on an ambitious plan to stream video that I honestly don’t think content companies are ready to embrace. Their last SEC filing in November shows $84K in revenues with $1.2M in losses. Unless there’s an investor with deep pockets or some major breakthrough with a major content company, they are not long for this world.

Honestly, I don’t think all of this is necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather have a handful of excellent and profitable providers than dozens of them waiting to see who dies first. If UTOPIA can get the network construction rolling again (seriously, guys, this is taking forever), maybe some of them will come back and give it another go. For right now, this is probably what’s best for all involved.

It's not just XMission: Qwest hurting other providers too

Salt Lake City Weekly just ran a story on Qwest’s attempts to limit competition and it looks like XMission isn’t alone. The CFO of Fibernet, Lee Livingston, says they have also experienced getting cut off from newer infrastructure and getting their customers poached. Tellingly, the Qwest PR flack tasked with responding refused to dispute the accuracy of the recorded phone call with their rep, instead trying a weak sauce accusation that it had been fabricated or altered. (Hey Qwest? That’s pretty much an admission of guilt and makes you look petty.) Fibernet used to complain to the FCC about these problems and gave up after they got no results.

The short of it is that the new era of competition that was supposed to be ushered in by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 flamed out almost as fast as it arrived. Incumbents have been actively thwarting wholesale customers to lock the market back up while claiming that they still have sufficient competition. Open networks like UTOPIA are the last chance to correct this market imbalance. And yes, it will be expensive and painful. Most mistakes are.

Want the fastest broadband in Utah? Brigham City has you covered

Ookla, the company responsible for running Speedtest.net, has recently released new results on the state of broadband speeds around the world and Brigham City has taken the top spot in Utah by a wide margin. Their average speed of 20.59Mbps handily bests second-place Pleasant Grove by almost 60%. Considering that over a third of the city accesses the Internet using a UTOPIA service provider, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise; almost all of the increase has been in the somewhat recent future. Neither is it surprising that two of the top three ISPs (as ranked by speed) are UTOPIA providers Xmission and Integra Telecom.

I think the moral of the story is crystal clear: if you want top-notch Internet service, get UTOPIA.

The Smoking Gun: Qwest Caught Admitting That FTTN Eliminates Competition

Incumbent telcos haven’t exactly been thrilled at having to offer their lines at wholesale rates to competing ISPs, especially since landline revenues have been sliding into a ditch. While AT&T and Verizon can keep most of that revenue with a wireless division, Qwest has no such option and has struggled with making enough money to either reduce its staggering debt load or upgrade its network. Instead of offering, say, good service or a product that people want to buy, they instead figured out that rolling out FTTN would let them claim to no longer have a copper plant to share. Of course, they don’t admit so much in public, instead insisting that other ISPs are just too incompetent (heh) to handle their shiny new pipes.

Well, Xmission has called them on it with a recording of a Qwest agent saying flat-out that the point of FTTN has been to eliminate competition and bring all of those customers in-house. It’s pretty damning evidence that Qwest doesn’t want to compete based on the products and services they offer, but rather on locking out competition. Is it any wonder that we have fewer ISPs today than we did in 1997 and that the few remaining ones are on UTOPIA as a means of survival?

Is Twitter for Customer Service or Damage Control?

Comcast has gotten a lot of praise for their Twitter customer service team and I don’t doubt it’s been responsible for their sharply increased rating on the American Consumer Satisfation Index (ACSI). I’ve used their team myself to resolve problems that support doesn’t or get quick answers to service questions. While I think they’re doing a valuable job, their function has been misidentified as customer service.

In my mind, customer service starts the minute you initiate contact to resolve an issue. You have an expectation that when you call in, you’re going to walk away with some kind of resolution. When you get conflicting answers from a CSR or don’t get your problem resolved by tech support, you’re not getting good customer service. By the time you’re venting on your blog, on a forum, or on your Twitter account, the damage is done: you got poor service.

When the Twitter-based customer service ninjas swoop in to try and get the problem fixed, they’re in full-on damage control mode. This isn’t to say they aren’t doing a great job of cleaning up messes; they are. But the core problem, that the customer service team failed to deliver, still hasn’t been fixed. I often don’t bother calling in with problems because I know I’m going to spend half an hour rebooting everything to have them blame my router, demand escalation, sit on hold another 15 minutes, and then face getting disconnected. It’s a lot easier to either complain online or seek out the Twitter folks to get things done.

This lesson is an important one for other service providers as a lot of former Comcast customers I’ve spoken with have sworn off ever going back because of customer service issues. Many Mstar customers have been in the same boat. Even though XMission’s DSL service is slower than Comcast and sometimes a bit more expensive, customers are fiercely loyal because the service is, by all accounts, awesome. It’s not because they’re using Twitter, it’s because they don’t have to in order to resolve customer issues.