The SAA: Is Centerville Next?

A commenter asked about the future of UTOPIA in Centerville and a search of the city website turned up some hints from the city council meeting on January 5. According to those minutes, Centerville is considering a Special Assessment Area (SAA) to cover the city with service, but the city council hasn’t yet taken any official action. (There was also discussion of making the Mayor the new board member for the city, but no action was taken on that either.) If you’re one of the people who has been waiting, patiently or not, for UTOPIA service, your chance may come soon.

BREAKING: Gov. Herbert Recommends UTOPIA for Broadband Stimulus

Peter Pratt at tipped me off that Gov. Herbert has made his recommendations to NTIA and that all three of UTOPIA’s proposals are on the list. This could pump over $57M into the network at a time when capital for expansion is rather difficult to come by. The money could be ready to use as early as February. While this isn’t the final word on which projects will be approved, the NTIA is very likely to go along with the recommendations from the states. The feds didn’t give independent reviewers a lot of time to screen applications before sending them to the states.

The money will be set aside for rural and underserved areas of member cities, so expect to see the money flow into Lindon, Centerville, Payson, Brigham City, Perry, and any leftover portions of Tremonton first. Residents in these cities are very likely to see a sharply reduced cost for an SAA (most likely) or the return of the free install (quite unlikely). Overall, this will mean a big expansion of UTOPIA availability which can only help the bottom line. UTOPIA’s new management will likely have a targeted build plan meant to maximize new subscribers; previously, the building had been willy-nilly.

UTOPIA isn’t the only winner in Herbert’s recommendations. UEN and the UTA picked up endorsements as did several projects from the Navajo Nation. Emery Telecom also got the nod for its three proposals to bring FTTP to its service areas in rural Utah, no doubt to unify its separate CATV and phone systems as part of the upgrade. (Seriously, guys, kudos on being one of the few rural ILECs doing something so ambitious.) There’s also an application to build a community WiFi cloud in Washington County.

All in all, it’s good news for Utah’s broadband.

Broadband Stimulus Applicants Revealed

As of a couple of days ago, applicants for broadband stimulus funds are now listed on the NTIA’s website. Utah has a number of applicants including the University of Utah, The Utah Transit Authority, and, not surprisingly, UTOPIA.

Several rural ILECs have also gotten into the game including Emery Telecom and Manti Tele Communications. Emery is apparently looking to deploy FTTP to beef up their triple-play offerings and replace their existing HFC CATV network. The finished product would be active Ethernet like iProvo and UTOPIA with up to 1Gbps at each address served. A separate request would use FTTN and wireless to reach more remote areas. Manti, meanwhile, is looking to use WiMax to reach more remote areas that currently do not have broadband service. Both of these projects are good news for Utahns.

Ogden City has also made an application to provide broadband access to government services and underserved residents. There is also an application for what appears to be a city-wide WiFi network. Given their reluctance to join UTOPIA, it’s rather surprising that they have done an about-face on city-provided services. My best guess is that they were holding out for someone else to pay for it.

So what about UTOPIA? They made three separate applications totaling around $54M. The only thing available is a general overview, but the requests appear to be targeted at Orem, Murray, Midvale, West Valley City, Layton, and Centerville. One of them hints at using a special assessment area (SAA) to triple the impact of at least $10.5M of the money applied for. Depending on how fast NTIA can review and approve applications, we may soon know if there will be more money for UTOPIA construction in the near term.

With applicants asking for 7 times what’s available in the first round, it will be interesting to see who makes the cut.

SB205 Text Available, Would Ban RDA Funds for Telecom

The text of SB205 became available a few short moments ago and, as currently worded, would ban the use of RDA funds on telecommunications projects. (See lines 651-3.) The bill is a direct response to Centerville’s attempts to build out fiber optics infrastructure in the city to promote next-generation networks. Given Sen. Bramble’s significant power and influence, it is critically important that each of you contact your state senator and representative to ask that the provision either be stricken or amended to allow use of RDA funds for telecom provided that the infrastructure is open to any provider.

(Update 2/18/09 by Mike Taylor) – Here is the actual text of the bill, the link above shows the status.

Centerville Inches Closer to RDA-Funded Fiber Hub Despite SB205 Threat

Centerville is getting closer to using RDA money to build a fiber hub in the city even as the threat of Sen. Bramble’s RDA amendments loom. The city council was unanimuous in voting to draft final documents to make it all happen. Once built, it would rescue about $2M worth of “stranded investment” at a cost of around $100K.

Sen. Bramble’s boxcar legislation for the changes, SB205, may contain provisions that would allow such carrier-neutral infrastructure to be built with RDA money, but there’s still a very strong chance that the provision would be nixed and telecom spending banned outright. You’d better contact your state senators and representatives to make them aware of what’s coming.

UPDATE: The Standard-Examiner has more on the story.

Sen. Bramble Looking to Ban RDA Funds for Telecom

Senator Curt “Take My Check, Pizza Girl” Bramble is working on amending RDA laws in Utah to make sure that funds aren’t spent on any telecommunications projects. This is reportedly a direct reaction to Centerville’s proposed use of RDA funds to build fiber-optic infrastructure within the city, even though the proposal on the table allows any network to use it. Sen. Bramble has a well-deserved reputation for being prickly, so be prepared if you decide to communicate directly with him.

It’s very important that you write, call or speak with your senator or representative to make sure they know how you feel about this change. UTOPIA cities are working to make sure that the language will allow for it so long as it is vendor-neutral, but your voices are much, much louder.

Cost for Centerville UTOPIA Hub May Top $100K

The Standard-Examiner reports that the network communications hub in Centerville may cost about $20K more than initially projected with the additional money paying for conduit to cross the railroad tracks. A vote on the spending could come as early as January 20. There’s no word yet on Qwest’s response to this new plan or if they plan to take advantage of the new facilities.

The bigger question, however, is why Centerville appears to be the only city willing to go “all in” to make the network succeed. I’m not aware of any other member cities looking at building and leasing infrastructure or spending RDA funds to help UTOPIA succeed. What’s the deal, guys?

No More Impasse? Centerville May Have Deal to Spend RDA Funds on UTOPIA

According to the Standard-Examiner, Centerville may be able to spend RDA funds to expand UTOPIA without facing legal action from Qwest. The deal would be to build a telecommunications hub within the city that would be open to all networks and providers willing to offer high-speed services to businesses and residents. Centerville could spend as much as $150,000 to expand UTOPIA to businesses along the I-15 corridor and complete the network hub.

Anyone at the meeting care to share additional insights? I couldn’t make it due to weather and preparing for another activity tomorrow night.

Broadband Bytes: 2008 Wrap-up Edition

Happy New Year! This Broadband Bytes covers from December 20 through the end of the year. The end of 2008 saw even more retransmission battles (in particular the 11th-hour showdown between Time Warner and Viacom), Qwest trying to unplug a rival that’s suing it for racketeering, and the pending launch of FTTH services in Lafayette, LA. I predict that 2009 will offer up explosive growth in broadband speeds and availability fueled by federal dollars, an increased flight of users from cable to online video streaming and continued greater-than-inflation rises in programming costs.