Report From the Initial Meeting of U-CAN

Today was the inaugural meeting of the UTOPIA Citizens Advisory Network or U-CAN for short. Attendance was about a dozen and we had some great conversations getting caught up on the status of UTOPIA and an idea of where it's going. Some highlights:

  • UTOPIA is looking at using Special Assessment Areas to expand services in non-member areas and unincorporated county lands. It's a voluntary tax increase in order to pay for deploying the network and doing the installation costs in a specified area that takes advantage of 15-year government bonds and the low interest rates they enjoy. The cost of installation will be assessed entirely to members of the SAA.
  • There's going to be some announcements soon on new service providers as soon as next week. Up to 4 could be announced over the next month and at least one is rumored to be interested in providing triple-play services.
  • The new bond closed in late May as planned, so we may yet see construction by August. The UTOPIA website is actively soliciting new employees, a Business Sales Director and Teams Coordinator, as well as an RFP for asset management software and services.
  • Speaking of UTOPIA's website, they are working on a new one with more updates and information. This will also include a mapping application to show you where the demand for UTOPIA is so you can find out if your neighborhood is higher or lower on the priority list.

Meetings are going to be held at least monthly and will rotate between the member cities to give everyone an equal chance to participate. I'm also planning on provisional monthly meetings outside of this rotation for Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties to encourage better participation in pledging member cities. The regular monthly meetings will be as follows:

  • July 2008: Orem (Utah County)
  • August 2008: Layton (Davis County)
  • September 2008: Brigham City (Box Elder County)
  • October 2008: Murray (Salt Lake County)
  • November 2008: Lindon (Utah County)
  • December 2008: Centerville (Davis County)

I'll announce the meeting times and locations here on the website as they are scheduled. Meetings will be tentatively planned for the 4th Saturday of the month at noon. If you want to receive U-CAN related announcements via e-mail, send a blank message to to get on the mailing list.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Report From the Initial Meeting of U-CAN

  1. Andrea says:

    An SAA is a VOLUNTARY tax increase? Does that mean that those within the SAA who don’t want to pay the tax increase don’t have to pay the tax increase even if a majority of those within the SAA do?

    Or are you saying that if a majority “volunteer” to pay the tax the minority must also pay the tax? If this is the case, then should we describe all voter-approved taxes as “voluntary”?

  2. Jonathan says:

    Andrea you are correct it is voted upon. The difference is instead of affecting the whole city it just affects the neighborhood or business park which would want it.

    The SAA is some times used to pay for things such as secondary water, Sewer improvement, road replacement etc…

    Wikipedia has a good general article on Special Assessment Tax

  3. Mr Anon says:

    Nice! A new triple play provider will make things interesting for sure.

  4. Andrea says:

    Thanks for the clarification although I have to disagree with the “voluntary” terminology. Voluntary means you don’t have to pay for it if you don’t want to.

    Even if a tax is voter approved — and it doesn’t matter if it is just a part of a city or an entire city — it’s not really voluntary if you are compelled to pay for it.

  5. FGF says:

    Andrea, you are arguing semantics. Voluntary can modify actions by an individual or a larger group. If a group conducts a vote open to all eligible voters then the result of that vote most definitely can be viewed as voluntary. It’s called Democracy.

  6. Andrea says:

    It’s not semantics. By your definition, all taxes are voluntary because they are voted on by someone.

    Do you understand the difference between a volunteer army and a draft? Even if we the people VOTED to institute a draft, we would no longer have a volunteer army.

    Saying that this is voluntary is purely Orwellian.

  7. FGF says:

    Actually, it is semantics. There’s simply a difference to what an individaul does voluntarily and what an organized group, as a whole, does voluntarily, even if a minority of members of that group are not in agreement. The initiative for creation and funding of SAAs will come from their residents and voted on by them, not just their elected representatives. Direct participatory Democracy; it doesn’t get much more fair than that. The volunteer professional army, the draft, Orwell, your incorrect view of my definition of voluntary… all strawmen.

  8. Jesse says:

    I was going to say… following Andrea’s line of reasoning means unanimous action should be required to carry out any government action. That’s just obstructionist anarchy.

  9. Andrea says:

    Great straw man, Jesse.

    I never said anything had to be unanimous to justify government action. Nor did I say that just because something is involuntary it is necessarily bad.

    I just dispute the use of the word voluntary. Even if it is democratic, even it is voted upon, it’s not voluntary unless individuals get to make their own choice.

  10. Andrea says:


    You’ve basically rendered the term “voluntary” meaningless. If I give money to a charity, that is voluntary.

    If the voters approve a tax increase to help the poor, that is not voluntary for those who don’t want to pay it. You can call it democracy, call it good policy, call it enlightened, just don’t call it voluntary.

    Again, are you saying ALL taxes are voluntary as long as the voters or their elected representatives approve it?

    Again, would a draft be voluntary as long as it was voted on? If so, then why do we use the term volunteer army? Your definition of voluntary renders the term meaningless.

    I don’t know if either of you two are religious, but if you are, does your religion make a distinction between the charity you give voluntarily and the taxes the voters “volunteer” you to pay?

  11. Jesse says:

    Andrea: Your point on the “voluntary” verbiage is well-taken. I was simply repeating the language used by Paul Recanzone to describe it at the meeting. That said… back off on the religious aspersions. You’re taking things way too far in your quest to debate minutiae.

  12. Andrea says:

    Sorry if the religion comments offended you. I certainly meant no offense when I brought up the religious angle.

  13. travis says:

    Can the RFP you linked to be interpreted to include the sale of UTOPIA to a private company?

    just kidding … (sort of)

  14. Jesse says:

    Travis, I think that’s one of the funniest things I’ve read all week.

  15. Capt. Video says:

    I guess I would land with FGF on the SAA thing.

    When it’s used for things like water projects, roads, sidewalks the project it’s there for all to use generally at no additional cost.

    Using an SAA for something like a private fiber network is vastly different. After paying for the construction you would still be required to sign up and pay for the monthly service if you wanted it.

    I would be very supportive if the service were a municipal service that was then provided to everyone as a public utility in the area paying the assessment.

    I don’t think this will matter as I see little hope of any area passing an SAA. I remain a non believer in these unique/unusual funding and marketing schemes. But all it would take to change my mind would be a successful demonstration by UTOPIA. Something we have not seen yet!

    I wish it were different, but sadly UTOPIA services are not different enough to warrant significant additional costs. Yes, the data is faster (with Comcast getting closer every day), but the video and phone are similar or worse than others provide. Very few people need data speeds faster than Comcast provides.

    UTOPIA will not be helped much by things like this (SAA). In my opinion they need to provider equal or better service (on all three services) at a similar or lower price (including installation).

    That is the formula for being successful and that is what UTOPIA should focus on.

    I see a very big PR nightmare and legislative backlash if people are forced to pay for UTOPIA to be built in their neighborhood by a vote of their neighbors. All hell will break lose and well funded (Qwest/Comcast) interests will get the law changed.

  16. Jonathan says:

    Capt. Video, I was about to agree with you on the no extra payment thing. Until I got my bill from the city for sewer and water usage.

  17. I’m sorry for coming into the conversation so late. Let me clarify what I meant by voluntary…

    Special Assessment Areas come in two forms, mandatory and voluntary. A mandatory assessment is very much like what Andrea is describing. It is an assessment you and your neighbors vote on and if the majority wins, everyone pays.

    A voluntary assessment is one the governing entity establishes and residents opt in. That is, if you do not opt in, you do not pay the assessment – and you do not take advantage of the improvement.

  18. Capt. Video says:

    I don’t think there will be any real political issues with a voluntary assessment. This seems very fair and a good way for UTOPIA to try and go.

    However, given UTOPIA’s below 20%(?) take rate with free installation over the past 3 years, there is little reason to believe people will flock to sign up for this. Does the assessment amount increase if the number of those that sign on is smaller?

    I do believe there will be problems (which Comcast and Qwest will point out in their advertising?) with the issue of making a legal, binding, long term(?) financial commitment to pay for installation for a network has at least some chance of going out of business.

    Can even the strongest UTOPIA supporter say there is absolutely no possibility that those in the special assessment district would not be paying for years on a network that has been sold, went bankrupt or is otherwise no longer proving the service the customer expected?

    Would those signing up in this manner be shouldering at least some level of personal financial risk?

    UTOPIA cannot be successful if only supporters (willing take some risk) sign up.

    Soon, UTOPIA will have to make all these plans clear (exactly how much will installs cost?, what payment options are available?, what (if any) pre-sign-up will be required to build-out an area?), then we will see how they will market all this AND most importantly, how it will be accepted by potential customers.

  19. Capt. Video says:

    UTOPIA new service providers?

    It was reported on June 28th that:

    “There’s going to be some announcements soon on new service providers as soon as next week. Up to 4 could be announced over the next month and at least one is rumored to be interested in providing triple-play services.”

    Later reports mentioned as many as 8 or 16 interested service providers.

    It’s been over 6 weeks and no announcements?

  20. Jesse says:

    I hear that something will be forthcoming Real Soon Now(TM) as they finalize some details. From what I hear, they are working on a comprehensive strategy to come out swinging and they want to have all of those pieces in order before making announcements.

Leave a Reply

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