Upcoming UTOPIA Legislation

As part of the last Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee, proposed legislation regarding UTOPIA has been handed out. Needless to say, it's a Qwest dream come true designed to unduly restrict UTOPIA from expanding beyond the current membership. Since it's not available online yet, I'll transcribe it with some of my own thoughts. These are all amendments to the Municipal Cable Television and Public Telecommunications Services Act.

The first proposal is to restrict new non-pledging members.

Prohibit new non-pledging members. A municipality may not join an interlocal entity engaging in activities authorized by the Act without pledging sales and use tax revenues to secure bonds or other indebtedness of the interlocal entity.

This proposal seems to be designed to address a problem that doesn't exist. (That could be said of most of these proposals, but we'll discuss that later.) What I'm reading is that there is a concern that the non-pledging cities are somehow freeloading off of the pledging cities and putting them at risk without assuming any risk themselves. This belies a fundamental misunderstanding of how the project operates.

Non-pledging cities have chosen to take no financial risk. In exchange, they will only be built out if and when construction is complete within pledging cities and the project goes revenue-positive. In other words, pledging cities get nothing unless UTOPIA is meeting its operation and debt obligations. Given that, where's the need to protect anyone? I just don't see it.

The second proposal is to prohibit new members until the build-out in pledging cities is completed.

Prohibit adding a new member until "build-out" complete. An interlocal entity engaging in activities authorized by the Act is required to meet its obligation to provide infrastructure to current pledging members before the interlocal entity may add a new member.

  • "Built out" would mean to have fiber optics available for use by every residential and business location in a pledging member municipality as contemplated on the day on which the municipality joins the interlocal entity.
  • An interlocal entity may not provide services or infrastructure to an existing non-pledging member of an interlocal entity until the interlocal entity meets its obligations to pledging members.

The first problem is that this is trying to address something that will be a non-issue by the time the law goes into effect. UTOPIA is currently slated to complete their build-out to RUS cities by March of 2008 and to all pledging cities by mid-summer of 2008. What good does it do to have a law telling them they have to do what they've already done? I don't get it.

My second beef is that this law could be creatively interpreted to prohibit expansion of UTOPIA because of exclusive contracts already in place. For instance, many apartment, condo and townhome complexes have exclusive agreements for service with an existing provider and have opted to now allow construction of UTOPIA until those contracts expire. Would an inability to build in an area due to existing contracts constitute not being "built out" under this proposal? If that's the case, UTOPIA could be near-permanently prohibited from expansion.

Now we get to the third (and probably worst) provision.

Require vote by registered members to add a new member. A vote by the registered voters of all pledging members in an interlocal entity is required before the interlocal entity may add a new member.

  • A vote on the ballot proposition would be allowed only at a regular general or municipal election.
  • A municipality may be added only if the majority of voters in each municipality that is a pledging member of the interlocal entity at the time of the vote approves the addition of the municipality.
  • The interlocal entity would notify the legislative body of each pledging member of the interlocal entity of the need for a vote.
  • The legislative body of each municipality would determine if it wants to submit the ballot proposition to a vote of its citizens.
  • Each addition of a municipality requires a separate vote, e.g. if three cities want to join at the same time, each would have a separate ballot proposition.
  • The basic process for a local ballot proposition under Title 20A, Election Code, would be followed and statute would establish the format of the ballot proposition.
  • Municipalities participating in the vote will not be able to recover the costs of the vote from the interlocal entity.

If you've gotten this far, the problems should be obvious. Basically, each member that wants to join requires unanimous approval of the majority of voters in every existing member city as well as the approval of the majority of the voters in the applicant city. What on earth is that? Why should residents of Murray vote on an issue for the residents of South Jordan? That makes no sense at all. My gut tells me it's a Qwest-proposed measure so that they can astroturf and snow job a single city into preventing all future expansion. Real nice, guys.

Unsurprisingly, I'm going to write up my objections and desired changes to this hideous proposal and submit it post haste to the members of the subcommittee prior to the next meeting on November 7. I'd encourage each of you to write the subcommittee members as well and voice your objections to these highly restrictive new terms.

Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Upcoming UTOPIA Legislation

  1. davin says:

    wow, I never thought that people were bought so easily to just rail road new ideas in favor of old monopolies. None of these provision make any sense at all from a business point of view unless the government has decide that they rather have incumbent monopolies than competition.

    This explains why college students always feel that government is no longer for the people by the people but for private corp citizen by the people.

  2. u235sentinel says:

    I spoke with Rep Craig Frank for over an hour after the meeting discussing Utopia. What amazed me is how little he knew about the history of SB66 and generally how we got here. I was asking him why not go for a vote. If a city wants to join let the citizens of THAT city vote for it. He was in agreement but what amazes me is the bill asking for each municipality to vote on adding new members. Not what Rep Frank was talking about.

    I’ll be there for the morning session on November 7th. I’ve worked it out so I can attend for a couple hours and yes, I will be speaking this time should the agenda allow it. I should have LAST time but you know me, I don’t know crap about how things work in politics. But I learn from my mistakes 🙂

    I spoke with several people part of the West Jordan Grassroots for Utopia and they were outraged. I thought these guys were in Politics to represent those who voted for them. Sounds like some people need to look for a job when we’re done with them.

  3. Jesse says:

    That’s the ultimate irony: the folks who are supposed to be the free market types are spending a lot of time and effort to protect monopolies. I just don’t get it.

  4. u235sentinel says:

    I spoke with Leif Elder (the research analyst listed) and learned the agenda may be published up to 24 hours before the meeting. Soooo…. this means I may miss the meeting… again. Damn my luck.

    I’m writing a letter to the committee and will post it on my blog (click on my name for the link). It’s not finished, and I’m thinking after the last meeting it’s probably wasted effort. Personally I don’t believe Senator Stephenson and Rep. Craig Frank are even listening. I also doubt they have been speaking to their constituents, unless they are affiliated with Qwest or Comcast of course. But that’s my feelings and thoughts on the matter.

    I’m still sending it AND I learned I could request it be read in committee. But of course Senator Stephenson is the one who decides if that happens. So, everyone is getting a copy of the letter.

    Oh and if this absurdity goes on to the legislature then I’m writing all them letters. Yeah I know, that’s a lot of letters but I have a computer and a large capacity printer 😀

    And if it STILL goes through, I’m writing letters to Governer Huntsman then there are levels above that. The ripper clause either is law at stated in Utah’s constitution or it should be repealed. Either municipalities can operate as they see fit (within the state laws of course) or they are impotent.

    This should be an interesting fight.

  5. Pingback: Reminder: Subcommittee Meeting Tomorrow Morning » Free UTOPIA!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *