The Utah Broadband Project recently released the Utah Broadband Plan, the culmination of almost five years of work paid for by a federal grant. This builds upon the Utah Broadband Map and a report on broadband adoption within the state. The report has four main objectives:
- Strengthen and Grow Existing Utah Businesses, Urban and Rural
- Increase Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Investment
- Increase National and International Business
- Prioritize Education to Develop the Workforce of the Future
The first unfortunate thing that pops up is that the group that put together the report recommends against treating broadband like the utility it is, yet it also rightly calls it “infrastructure”. Despite broadband being more-or-less unregulated as it is and leading to no competitive choice for 25Mbps+ for 55% of Americans, they state flatly that regulation “would be costly and could result in undesired impacts including constraining industry growth”. This strikes an immediate poor response for the many Utahns who, even in urbanized areas of Salt Lake City, cannot purchase wired service that meets the legal definition of broadband.
Since most of the report is highly focused on commercial services and economic development, it’s not surprising to see residential services get the short shrift. In fact, only a single page makes mention of residential services and sets an embarrassingly low goal of 10Mbps downstream with no upstream goal at all. Despite a positive goal of coordinating efforts between federal, state, and local agencies and network builders, there is no mention of setting a price goal for services, increasing competitive options in the many captive markets in the state, or pushing for using fiber over unreliable copper or wireless technologies. Worse yet, there are no timetables for achieving any of the stated goals in the report.
In all, this effort reeks of high-minded fluffery while doing very little to address the very serious underlying problems of an anti-competitive marketplace offering overpriced services on inferior networks. Completely disavowing the utility-like nature of all wired services seems to be core to the problem, a woefully uninformed position that falsely treats wired and wireless services as co-equals to gloss over deficiencies in competition. This is a standard move in the broadband space, to set a very low goal and pat yourself on the back for reaching it without really trying. We can and ought to do better.
Other highlights from the report:
- A commercial broadband map to augment the residential service map. This would be helpful to see where commercial providers have exclusive status that blocks competition. It would also reveal areas rich in fiber that can be used to extend service to residential areas.
- A request to continuing funding the project through GOED. Now that the federal money is gone, the project is asking the state to continue funding its efforts. Despite many weaknesses in their recommendation, we need at least some level of semi-impartial data to draw from to help policymakers.
- No mentions of municipal efforts. Despite having the largest gigabit fiber network in the nation, the report makes great pains to not even mention municipal networks, not even the profitable SFCN. These are the same players who have managed to successfully apply for and receive federal grants that the report cites as a key part of building out more services in the state.
- Little use of the previous reports published by the Utah Broadband Project. Despite doing a very in-depth report showing that non-adopters either can’t get access or don’t understand why they would need it, no effort has been put into figuring out how to actually provide education and services to those groups. This almost completely wastes a report published just weeks ago.
I didn’t have much confidence that the Utah Broadband Project would produce useful results before. With this report, my suspicions about its near-uselessness is confirmed. If you want better broadband in Utah, don’t count on the state to do much to lead.
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UPDATE: I should have let Princess Unikitty summarize the plan for me.