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.