Could iProvo Be Up For Grabs?

The word on the street is that some recent closed-door meetings with Provo Mayor Lewis Billings and members of the Provo City Council could mean that iProvo is about ready for some big changes. Right now we've got nothing more than speculation, but the Deseret Morning News points to an obvious possibility: Provo could be getting ready to put a For Sale sign on the money-losing network.

So what would become of the network if Provo decides to sell? A high point is that the network's technology is top-notch and it's currently revenue positive. The downside? The revenue isn't enough to cover debt. The city probably won't sell at a loss either to make it a more attractive target. This puts Provo in the same situation as American Fork with AFCNet: it's losing money now but you don't want to lose money on the sale either. My prediction is that the network is unsellable right now. If that changed, the city would likely be revenue-positive and have no reason to sell. It would appear that Provo has no choice but to try and fix it.

Provo brought in a pair of consultancy firms late last year to come up with suggestions on how to fix the network. Among the suggestions discussed at their iProvo summit in December were sharply increasing the number of providers, come up with better rewards for service providers who meet certain goals and curbing the sky-high installation costs. Now, months later, there's been no news on any of these key points and Kevin Garlick, the city's Energy Director, has been acting director of iProvo as well as the marketing manager for about a year as the city searches for permanent replacements for those positions.

The Utah Taxpayer's Association has rightfully pointed out that this leadership vacuum hasn't been good for iProvo. The solutions they've been pursuing seem to be more geared towards maintaining the status quo without the red ink instead of lasting improvements to the service. It seems they are detached from the users who have found both MSTAR and Veracity/Nuvont to have about the same problems as either Qwest or Comcast, the companies they were supposedly fed up with. What iProvo could use is someone from outside who's ready to run the city department like the business that it is.

iProvo seems to be taking a very backwards approach to solving this problems when two small tweaks would fix the system right now: sign up about a dozen more ISPs and bump wholesale rates by about $5 per month per service. With the bad rap that MSTAR and Veracity/Nuvont have been racking up, many former iProvo users won't be coming back until there's some other options. The small bump in rates would also go a long ways towards erasing the red ink; such an increase could generate about $1.2M/year in additional revenues.

One thing is certain: Provo will have to make some drastic changes if they want to stop the bleeding. The question is if they'll do it before voters do it for them.

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