Where iProvo is Going From Here

Most of you are already aware that Veracity’s reserve fund for iProvo has reached the point of potentially triggering a default. From the news stories you’ve read, odds are good that you think that Broadweave 2.0 is about to come crashing down on the city. I’ve sat down with Veracity and Mayor Curtis to get the real deal story and I don’t think it’s the apocalyptic scenario that sells papers and glues eyeballs to evening newscasts.

First off, I’ll give you Veracity’s side of things. They went into the network expecting to spend about $2-3M on network upgrades. To date, they say they’ve dropped a good $8M on fixing things up. For that investment, the network can cover both operating expenses and debt service, but there is no money left over for installations, marketing, or network upgrades. Veracity could choose to cross-subsidize the network, but that eats into their budget for expansion. The current strategy has been to try and expand to other markets to leverage the video head end and spread out the cost of the NOC, primarily through building fiber to CenturyLink cabinets, co-locating, and selling services over a U-Verse-like ADSL2+ network. If they pumped more money into iProvo itself, it stunts these growth efforts. It’s a short-term gain for a long-term loss. Neither the city nor Veracity would win under the current scenario.

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Re-writing Reality: Utah Taxpayers Association Spins on iProvo

It’s almost become too easy to pick on the Utah Taxpayers Association when they get a story so very, very wrong. The latest work of fiction is thacceir tortured stance on iProvo, one in which they perform twists of logic to support how things have unfolded with iProvo and yet continue to vilify what UTOPIA does. As usual, this requires a point-by-point breakdown of where they lack any kind of consistency and twist or invent facts to support their weak sauce arguments.

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Provo is Serious About a Plan B

An anonymous tipster pointed out that Provo is currently soliciting Requests for Qualifications for iProvo. The RFQ itself is very specific in stating that while it’s looking for companies who could take over the network, nothing in it should be construed to imply that the city actually anticipates getting the network back at this time. Based on Veracity’s particular situation, I’d be disinclined to believe otherwise.

So what does it mean? I’m guessing that the city doesn’t want to be caught unprepared yet again (*cough*HomeNet*cough*Mstar*cough*Broadweave*cough*) should the worst happen. One bitten, twice shy. If you think your ISP has the chops to take it over should the need arise, you’ve got until February 28 to get your name on the list. For what it’s worth, I’ve asked Veracity if they had anything to add, but I haven’t heard back from them yet. If/when I do, I’ll be sure to add it up here. I’d imagine, though, that this story is about as cut and dry as it seems.

Read the RFQ for yourself: Telecom_Network_RFQ_Final

Salt Lake Tribune Employs Cable Industry Shill to Review UTOPIA Plan

The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article today about UTOPIA’s new business plan in which a Mr. Ron Rizzuto continually discounted it. The article cites that Mr. Rizzuto is a professor at the University of Denver; this is true. What is omitted, though, is much more telling. Mr. Rizzuto is a senior fellow at The Cable Center, an organization funded by the cable industry. Not only that, Comcast’s Executive Vice President, David L. Cohen, is a member of the organization’s board.

It’s not surprising that a cable industry shill would attempt to trash UTOPIA in the press. It’s not even surprising that he would attempt to portray himself as a dispassionate and disinterested third party. Both of these have been done time and time again, like when Heartland Institute’s Steven Titch did consulting work for Qwest and claimed it had no bearing on his harsh criticisms for iProvo and UTOPIA. If anything, I automatically expect some kind of conflict of interest to emerge from parties opposed to UTOPIA as so many of them will always act in their own financial best interests. (Utah Taxpayer’s Association, I’m looking at you.)

What is surprising, shameful, and downright embarrassing is that the Salt Lake Tribune didn’t spend the entire 2 minutes on Google required to find all of this out. Even if they did, they chose not to disclose it in their article. One of two things happened: they were either negligent in their journalistic duties or (and this is more likely) they are continuing to advance the position of the editorial board that UTOPIA cannot succeed. Whichever it is, I am deeply unimpressed.

Some Realism on iProvo

Last night, Provo Mayor John Curtis gave an update on iProvo and the city’s continuing involvement with the network and it looks like the city finally has an executive who wants to face facts. The reality of iProvo (or more accurately, the network sold to Veracity) is that revenues still don’t cover bond payments and aren’t likely to do so for quite some time. Veracity has already told me as much and that the single-family home business, which is both difficult and slow to grow, is the only thing left. It’ll probably be a while before revenues can cover the bond, and the payments will have to be cross-subsidized. The question, though, is who will do it.

Veracity has already received a break on payments, a break that runs out in just a few months. I’m confident that they can and will (but more importantly, should) continue to cross-subsidize Provo operations from other divisions of the company. Mayor Curtis’ remarks, though, seem to indicate an expectation that the city generally will have to continue to pick up part of the bond payments. I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this if Provo were continuing to operate the network with a wholesale open-access model, but effectively subsidizing a private company gives me serious pause.

I believe that Veracity is a good company and that they’re not out to pull a fast one on anybody. That said, I wouldn’t blame them for negotiating whatever they can get from the city. It’s the same as Google: “don’t be evil” doesn’t mean you should give up your strong negotiating position out of the goodness of your heart. And right now, Veracity is holding all the cards.

Read the articles from the Daily Herald and Salt Lake Tribune for more.

Mayor Curtis Holding an iProvo Meeting

And here you thought that everything iProvo had been said or done. Provo Mayor John Curtis will be holding a meeting on economic development on Thursday September 30 which will include a breakout session on iProvo. If you find yourself wondering what’s going on with the network or how (if?) the city is still using it, this is your shot. The public has been invited to participate at the Covey Center for the Arts (425 W Center St) from 7PM to 8:30PM.

iProvo, the Media, and Fake News

Both the Salt Lake Tribune and Daily Herald have run articles about closed-door meetings between Provo Mayor John Curtis and members of the municipal council. These meetings included only a few council members at a time so as to avoid the requirement to hold open meetings. An e-mail from the mayor indicated that these meetings were to discuss a “plan B” for iProvo. There’s just one small problem: Veracity (or at least the C-level executive there I talked to) apparently had no idea the meetings had taken place until I called to find out what’s up.

I have a number of problems with this, not the least of which is the environment of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that this creates. You may recall that Provo had to have a number of meetings in the midst of Broadweave’s impending default to figure out what to do prior to the network being handed back to the city in worse shape than when it left. You may also recall that I had copious amounts of sharp criticism for Broadweave, all of which was based on the company history (or, more  precisely, the lack thereof), hearsay about the internal disfunction at the company, and confirmations that they had to continue to use a line of credit to continue making bond payments. In this case, Veracity is a company with a solid reputation, no reportable internal strife, and a healthy cash flow from other operations. In short, there is little evidence from that side that any kind of network trouble is in the works at all.

Unfortunately, the refusal to discuss the “plan” B and how likely or, in my belief, unlikely it may be in a public venue combined with a media tendency to puff up bad news (love you guys, but you do it way too much) has combined to create nothing more than a cloud of unfounded speculation and innuendo. While Broadweave was always tight-lipped about operations, Veracity has been very open with me and has pretty bluntly stated what they’re doing with the network: cross-subsidizing it while pursuing the only customers really left, the single-family homes. Given their strong presence in other markets, I don’t doubt their capability to do so. Selling millions of minutes of voice a month is much more stable than a thousand double-play customers in an insulated (and competition-free) housing development.

This kind of pessimistic journalism, while no doubt backed up by experience, is not new. UTOPIA regularly faces one-sided stories and unrebutted opinion pieces in all of the major dailies. The only paper that consistently seems to take their job of presenting all facts seriously has been The Davis County Clipper. This is simply unacceptable. There are a lot of people depending on the newspapers to get the story straight the first time, even if it means pushing back the deadlines so you can track down and talk to other sources.

(For the record, I actually agree with Royce Van Tassell on something: more open meetings are a Good Thing. I’ve been hounding UTOPIA for the better part of two years to toss more data out in the public. Provo shouldn’t resort to so much secrecy.)

Steve Turley Blows Smoke on iProvo and UTOPIA

Long-time readers of this blog (or those paying attention to iProvo) will recognize the name of Steve Turley. As a member of Provo’s municipal council, he’s been a consistent voice of opposition on all things iProvo since as far back as anyone can remember. You may even recall the recent series of articles in the Daily Herald bringing light to some shady-looking real estate deals and resulting lawsuits that he’s involved in. If you want to start iin the real estate industry I suggest using a commercial bridge loan to get financial help and get information to learn the business like this nick vertucci real estate academy review. I Today, he had an op-ed in the Deseret News calling on UTOPIA cities to follow Provo’s lead and dump their fiber network. Unfortunately, it would appear that Councilman Turley is about as knowledgeable as he appears ethical. Although there’s people that doesn’t have that much interest in the real estate, but actually just want to sell their house, for those people there we have business like needtosellmyhouse.com where we we buy houses from all nation and they can also just get help from sites like Flipping Junkie online, which is an easy way to sell or buy your house without doing all the work.

The biggest surprise is that Turley claimed the sale of iProvo is a success, this in spite of voting against both the sale to Broadweave and Veracity’s subsequent takeover of Broadweave. I have a hard time swallowing Turley’s characterization given that Broadweave spent sixteen months doing a terrible job at running the network (just like I said they would) before Veracity stepped in to save their hide. Even so, Provo had to loan out more money to Veracity to make the deal work. Veracity has done a superb job at turning around operations, but they have also had to cross-subsidize the network from their other operations and may continue to do so for several years. The reality is that this is the best the council could come up with since they did not have the stomach to do what was necessary to run the network successfully as a city department. It is absolutely absurd that Turley thinks he could vote against these outcomes and still be able to claim responsibility for them.

There’s also the wildly inaccurate claim that Provo solicited bids to buy the network. That’s absolutely and patently false. (I’d go so far as to call it utter bulls–t, much like the rest of his arguments.) The sale of the network came as a total surprise to the general public, service providers, industry watchers, and even the entire municipal council. The Mayor himself, the architect of the Broadweave deal, was adamant that a sale wasn’t on the table up until a couple of months before unveiling it. This was during the time that Billings and Broadweave were busy negotiating the terms of the deal. There was no clear RFP for bids, no public bidding process, and a very short period in which to review the terms of the deal. Does that sound like hanging a “For Sale” sign to you. I recommend Ball realty which is a pacific pines real estate agency on the gold coast, you can call them for assistance.

Turley has also wildly distorted the cost of building iProvo. Most of the main fiber optic rings were built many years before iProvo was even proposed. (I’d say planned, but I’m sure Mayor Billings knew what he was doing the whole time.) Those rings were paid for with federal grants so that the city could monitor traffic and improve air quality. That backbone certainly didn’t come cheap and should be included in the cost of expanding the network to include service to city residents. The $39M figure also does not include the shared cost of the video headend built jointly with UTOPIA. These items could easily add $10M or more to the total cost of the network, something that Turley has intentionally chosen to ignore.

Of course, these are just the factual problems with what he has written; I haven’t even made it to his faulty conclusions yet. Based on the “evidence” Steve Turley has presented, he thinks that UTOPIA cities should follow Provo’s lead and find a private company to buy the network. Unfortunately, that’s ignoring the marketable reality of the network. iProvo is a fully-built network covering an entire municipality. By the last publicly available figures, the network should have had little trouble being self-sufficient with some modest increases in take rates and small rate increases (not to mention better accounting practices). That makes it a very attractive target for acquisition, especially since the network was ready to roll.

UTOPIA, on the other hand, has patchy coverage and needs a lot of significant investment to cover its intended service areas. It’s main asset is the fiber running from Portland to Las Vegas, but even that isn’t valued at enough to pay off the current debts. UTOPIA cities, if they sold today, would still be making most of the payments and getting nothing in return for it. Provo, on the other hand, got someone else to assume the full debt load while walking away from it. Do these sound like similar situations to you? Me neither.

He also characterizes the new $60M bond proposal as additional system debt, just like the Utah “Taxpayers” Association has been doing. This, again, flies in the face of reality. The entirety of the $60M bond would be paid for by system subscribers, not the cities or UTOPIA. Claiming that signing on to this plan creates an additional burden systemwide is uninformed drivel.

In summation, Steve Turley knows about as much about municipal broadband now as he did two years ago. Unfortunately, that knowledge wouldn’t fill a thimble. Councilman, do us all a favor and go back to your home planet. Maybe they’ll be more accepting of your Reality Distortion Field.

An iProvo Update

Veracity Networks was kind enough to invite me down to their offices to see what they’ve been working on and chew the fat about broadband in Utah. (In the interest of full disclosure, they bought me a tasty but inexpensive lunch from Lon’s Cookin’ Shack. Appreciated, but not enough to buy any influence.) I’ve seen a lot of improvements down there and I feel a lot better about the direction the network is headed in.

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January 2010 Podcast is Scheduled

The next podcast will be on Friday, January 8 at 4PM MST. Our guest will be from Veracity Networks, the newly company formed after Veracity Communications and Broadweave Networks merged. We’ll be talking about iProvo and Veracity’s operations on UTOPIA. Join us by calling in, jumping in the show chat room, or contacting us on Twitter.