UTOPIA has obtained the approval of Brigham City to move forward with the plan to create a voluntary SAA to provide services to over 1,600 residences. Reports from the meeting were that the crowd was almost unanimously in favor of approval and the city council voted 4-1* in their favor. This means that residents who have opted in will be able to receive service in exchange for either a $3,000 connection fee up-front or paid over a period of 20 years via a city-backed bond. Anyone who has not signed up for service will not be expected to pay any part of this bond.
The good news is that with the number of homes participating, the entire city will be covered with service. Residents have until early December to opt to participate in the bond. Anyone who wishes to get hooked up after that will have to come up with the money up-front or join up with enough other residents to form a new bond. Best of all, the city will retain ownership of all portions of the network built under the SAA with the potential to get other portions of the network placed under city ownership in the future.
UTOPIA also picked up a new service provider, Brigham.net. They’re the typical dial-up-come-DSL ISP that’s hit hard times as Qwest plays hardball. (While Qwest will deny it, they’ve been using the list of wholesale line orders from other service providers to poach DSL customers.) While it is unclear if/when Brigham.net plans to expand beyond its home town, it certainly is a good thing for residents of Brigham City to have even more competitive choice. This could also bring an additional 145 customers to UTOPIA beyond the 1600 that have already opted in.
As part of the launch, the long-delayed white label video product will be ready to go. (It’s about time since it was starting to feel like the Duke Nukem Forever of fiber networks.) Apparently the hold-up was Turner. UTOPIA wanted to transport the video signal over a secure fiber network to their headend and Turner was the only programmer who would have none of it. After much negotiation, UTOPIA had to get a dish to bring in Turner networks like TNT, TCM, CNN, and Cartoon Network. The packages are only going to come in a few basic flavors and I wasn’t able to get details on what VOD options, if any, will be included with it. The channel lineups are currently posted on their website if you want to take a look; it appears to be pretty complete to me.
So how is Qwest reacting? Just as you would expect them to. They have filed a GRAMA request with Brigham City to obtain the documents forming the SAA and may take legal action to stop it from forming. The problem here, though, is that UTOPIA is just a contractor in the middle of it all. Qwest will have to sue Brigham City to stop the SAA to, in effect, tell them that they can’t let their residents buy a fiber optic network of their own. (Yes, it’s as dumb as it sounds.) I sincerely hope Qwest will back off on this one.
(*Unsurprisingly, Ruth Jensen was the lone no vote and continued to parrot telecom talking points. She was also reportedly excessively harsh and unprofessional with the UTOPIA representatives at the meeting to the point of being called out by some residents. I’m also a bit concerned that she apparently didn’t know the difference between a voluntary SAA and an involuntary SAA. Isn’t that the kind of thing that a city council member should know?)