From a fiscal perspective, it’s easy to see why they made the decision. Since joining the network, the population has grown by several thousand, so there are a lot more homes to cover. At this point, there’s less than a decade of the original bond payments left for them to make. I’m sure they’re figuring that the cost to pay off the bond and walk away from their share of the network is less than taking the deal. Unfortunately, it also means that the city probably has little chance of seeing an open-access fiber network. Anyone who’s using the network in Payson is probably also looking at going dark Real Soon Now(TM).
I honestly did not expect this. Despite being one of the few cities with a near-complete network, Tremonton voted 5-0 last night to move forward with Milestone Two. This makes the tally so far four in favor (including Midvale, West Valley City, and Layton) and one against (Lindon). Votes are still scheduled in Orem, Centerville, and Murray. Payson and Brigham City have both been discussing it, but Perry has been pretty quiet.
If you live in a city that hasn’t voted, there’s still time to talk to them and urge them to move forward with Milestone Two. Check the list of events to get an idea of the when and where of what I know or contact your city directly.
In what is not a terribly surprising move, Lindon has decided not to move forward with Milestone Two from Macquarie by a unanimous vote. This makes them the first (and so far only) city to not move forward on the proposed deal to complete the network. While Lindon could reconsider sometime in the next nine days, it seems very unlikely.
Of course, Lindon is going to be in for a very rude awakening in the coming months. They will still be on the hook for the bond, and they will have to cough up their share of the operational shortfall to keep the network running or face the very real possibility of turning off Internet access to 45% of their residents. Though 70% of Lindon residents residents are reportedly not fans of the utility fee, I’d bet a similar percentage doesn’t want to face the ugly fiscal realities of the other options left on the table.
I don’t think most people realize just how deeply CenturyLink is embedded in the Utah Taxpayers Association. Bring it up at every public meeting. Share this post on every piece of social media you can and do so often. Once more people realize the uNOpia effort is just CenturyLink protecting its turf, the tide will change.
In a live news conference this morning, City Manager Wayne Pyle announced that the city is working on a partnership with Ooma to provide free phone service to every resident of West Valley City. Residents would be responsible for taxes and fees and there is also a charge to port an existing number. The city projects that the partnership would save residents around $20M per year in telecommunications costs. This service will ride on top of the completed UTOPIA network assuming that the city council accepts Macquarie’s offer when the Milestone Two report is complete. While this deal seems to apply only to West Valley City, it will be interesting to see if other UTOPIA cities try to get in on that action.
This only highlights the immense brand power of a ubiquitous fiber network in a city. It also gives Google Fiber a bit of a black eye since they have no phone product at all.
Wondering how the uNOpia site sprung up so quickly and with so much funding? Wonder no more. I have inside information that the payments for the entire operation come directly from CenturyLink itself. This isn’t too surprising since they rarely directly involve themselves in politics anymore, preferring to launder the money through hatchetmen like the Utah Taxpayers Association (who, of course, is heavily promoting the uNOpia site). Given how much CenturyLink stands to lose in the residential and commercial wireline market should this succeed, it’s no wonder they’re willing to spend thousands of dollars to try and upend it.
This isn’t anything too surprising after the confirmed involvement of the Utah Taxpayers Association in HB60 and the suspected involvement in SB190 earlier this year. Incumbents will stoop to any low in order to protect their turf and keep prices artificially high.
Layton joins Midvale and West Valley City in voting yes to move forward with getting final details of Macquarie’s proposal under Milestone Two, the third city in a row to do so. For those keeping score, this means that all of the cities who have voted on the proposal have chosen to get more details. Given that there’s no little commitment to do so, it’s a wonder any city isn’t interested in say “yes, please, give us the finalized details”.
The next scheduled votes won’t be until the final week to respond, so it’ll be really quiet. In the meantime, there’s a lot of public meetings you can drop in on to show your support. Also make sure that your city councils are hearing from you that they should move forward with Milestone Two.
Surprising exactly nobody, the Utah Taxpayers Association has launched an effort to try and derail the Macquarie deal using misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies. Using the sophomoric name “uNOpia“, they falsely claim that the deal will cost more (when it is actually less than selling), that those who can’t afford the utility fee will be forced to pay it (when the deal includes waivers for the indigent), and that cities lose all control of how the deal works (when it’s all hammered out in a contract). The lies are blatant hysteria designed to whip people into an unhinged frenzy, exactly the same as they’ve done time and time again on anything UTOPIA.
The best thing you can do is make sure you show up at public meetings and counter the misinformation campaign paid for by incumbents CenturyLink and Comcast. It’s time for these hatchetmen to take a seat and let the adults in the room speak.
I’ve just received an updated list of what meetings and votes are currently scheduled to take place regarding Macquarie’s proposal to UTOPIA. As always, theses are subject to change and could be added to. If you hear anything, let me know and I’ll update accordingly.
Public Meetings and Town Halls:
June 3 @ 7:00PM, Lindon: Lindon City Center, 100 N State St, Lindon
June 4 @ 7:00PM, Tremonton: Bear River High, 1450 S Main St, Garland
June 5 @ 5:00PM, Orem: Orem Senior Friendship Center, 93 N 400 E, Orem
June 5 @ 6:30PM, Murray: Doty Education Center, Building 6 of the Intermountain Medical Center, 5121 S Cottonwood St, Murray
June 5 @ 7:30PM, Centerville: Centerville City Hall, 250 N Main St, Centerville
June 17 @ 7:00PM, Lindon: Lindon City Centr, 100 N State St, Lindon
June 17 @ 7:30PM, Centerville: Centerville City Hall, 250 N Main St, Centerville
June 19 @ 6:00PM, Orem: Orem Senior Friendship Center, 93 N 400 E, Orem
June 5 @ 7:00PM, Layton: Layton City Hall, 437 N Wasatch Dr, Layton
June 18 @ 6:00PM, Payton: Payson City Hall, 439 W Utah Ave, Payson
June 24 @ 6:30PM, Murray: Murray City Hall, 5025 S State St, Murray
June 24, Centerville: Centerville City Hall, 250 N Main St, Centerville
June 26, Orem: Orem City Hall, 56 N State St, Orem
June 26 @ 7:00PM, Perry: Perry City Hall, 3005 W 1200 S, Perry
Some of these are cutting it pretty close to the deadline to respond of June 27. Payson is reportedly interested in finding out more, but their years of not attending board meetings with any regularity has left a huge information and expertise vacuum within the city government. I haven’t heard anything about Perry at all. Brigham City will be voting on the proposal either on June 19 or 26 during the regularly scheduled council meeting.
A company you’ve never heard of makes a pitch to take over a municipal fiber network despite no track record of providing residential services or network construction on a large scale. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it describes Broadweave’s pitch to Provo that ended in a disastrous devaluing of the network that allowed Google to take it over for the price of a Coke at McDonald’s. Suspiciously, it’s also beginning to sound a lot like a proposal from Salt Lake City CLEC FirstDigital being made in Orem as a competing offer to Macquarie.
So who is FirstDigital? Judging from their very spartan website, it appears they provide services to business customers with a heavy focus on T-1 lines and old-school analog phone lines. There’s no evidence that they have experience with managing fiber infrastructure on their own or have any idea how to provide services to residential customers. A search of their employees seems to indicate as much. To say that this company would be in way over their head is a huge understatement.
Based on some third party notes about meetings in Orem, it appears that FirstDigital is trying to keep as many details of their proposal under wraps as possible. They’re meeting with one or two council members at a time to avoid open meeting requirements, a tactic that sends UTOPIA critics howling. What has come out in the public meetings has been concerning at best. The biggest issue is that FirstDigital wants to employ the Google Fiber “fiberhood” tactic, a plan where they only build out areas that are financially justified. This buries any promise of ubiquity under a rock in no time flat. Given that much of the remaining areas of Orem are very expensive to build (thanks to the infamous “Orem potatoes” rocky soil), it’s likely they wouldn’t build out much more of the city at all, but we already know that the half-finished network doesn’t break even. Macquarie is proposing to complete building the entire city, not redline those areas where they can’t make a quick buck.
I’m also going to immediately question the financial situation of FirstDigital itself. Broadweave had a bankroll of tens of millions of dollars to take over a completed network in a city of the same size and failed miserably. FirstDigital would be taking over a half-finished network with no NOC, no video headend, and no transport outside of the city. This is a project that requires a much larger sum of money than Broadweave had available and is unlikely to reduce the financial burden on the city any more than Macquarie would. Hoovers estimates that the company has a scant $900K/year in revenue and just 11 employees (though LinkedIn shows at least 20). For comparison, Macquarie manages at least $140B in assets and is bringing the top international names in network engineering to the table.
While many details are still shrouded in mystery, I feel pretty confident in saying that this looks like a small company about to get in way over their head. I asked FirstDigital for an interview, but they have failed to respond. Oremites, make sure your council knows that this apparently ill-equipped suitor should be kicked to the curb.