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.
Peter Pratt at StimulatingBroadband.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The Centerville city council will vote tonight on using RDA funds to spur UTOPIA construction in business areas. The meeting is at 8:30PM at 250 North Main St. Qwest is still rattling its saber on this one, so having supporters present is going to be really important.
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.
Qwest’s official company policy appears to compete on everything but having a superior product at a superior price. After small New Mexico ISP SkyWi sued them for anti-competitive practices, Qwest decides to shut down the ISP claiming that they are in arrears by $1.7M. Regulators in New Mexico responded by demanding that Qwest restore service pronto to “critical” customers. Given Qwest’s attitude with Centerville over RDA funds for UTOPIA and their continued efforts to block pole attachments, I think we can see a pattern from America’s least competent ILEC. At least they’re smart enough to slash prices on DSL service across the board.
After years of litigation and construction, Lafayette is finally to launch fiber services in the city next month. Packages are priced very competitively with AT&T and Cox with an $85/mo triple-play package that includes 10Mbps symmetrical Internet service. Lafayette is both wholesaler and service provider, so it makes their financial goals a good deal lower than open networks like UTOPIA that have to share revenue with third-party providers. The Lafayette Pro Fiber blog has a breakdown of pricing options.
It wouldn’t be 2008 without some more bad economic news. The Washington Post reports that the housing slump is hitting homebuilders pretty hard which means you can’t depend on greenfield development to power your growth. New providers will have to look at expensive brownfield development in order to gain new customers. One bright spot is that a think tank has recently called for lowering pole attachment rates as a way to spur broadband deployment. That could spell good news for overbuilds.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that video rates keep on climbing (thank the Governor of New York for some of those increases), text messaging rates are seeing a precipitous climb in overage charges even though it costs fractions of a cent to send each of them. Providers have uniformly increased the cost per message from 10 to 20 cents. Given that a text message is no more than 140 characters, you’re essentially paying over $1400 per MB for texting.
Could big broadband kill Blu-Ray? ZDNet seems to think so citing the growth on online HD video options and the high cost of both players and movies. (h/t: Woods Cross Citizen) A few high-profile flops aside, online HD video has been exploding with manufacturers like Roku and LG integrating Netflix, YouTube and a bevy of other video providers into set-top boxes and DVD players. Even the Wii is getting in on the streaming action. To really compete with Blu-Ray, however, requires a solid 16-24Mbps of bandwidth, something most households only dream of having access to. Will the explosion of on-line video kill cable and broadcast TV? Probably not. Despite some strong warnings to get ahead of the online viewing trend, a recent study showed that online viewers are just as likely to watch live TV as everyone else.
Remember how much TV sucked after the writer’s strike and how some shows (I’m looking at you, Heroes) managed to never quite recover? The Screen Actor’s Guild is getting dangerously close to authorizing a strike after it’s January 12 meeting. If, like me, you’ve been eagerly anticipating new seasons of hit shows like Lost, we might end up waiting a lot longer. Maybe it’s time to get around to watching Jack of All Trades on Hulu.