UTOPIA Sued: Is there really a story here?

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Chris Hogan, one of UTOPIA’s former execs, has filed a suit against the agency over violations of his employment contract. The suit alleges that consulting firm TetraTech was awarded an improper contract for network construction because Executive Director Todd Marriott’s brother is a manger there. The suit also alleges that Hogan’s replacement, Gary Jones, is Marriott’s neighbor.┬áNow I’ve got friends on both sides of this, so this is where I tread very, very lightly.

I can’t speak to Mr. Jones’ qualifications, but I do know that UTOPIA has done plenty of business with TetraTech in the past. They are also a very large multi-national corporation with offices across the world, including two here in Salt Lake County. Even with the blood relationship between the Marriotts, I don’t see that this would necessarily disqualify TetraTech from being a candidate, especially if the work they did in the past was up-to-par.

UTOPIA has also told me that Hogan’s contract was up for renewal and they opted to not renew it. Obviously, I don’t have any details beyond that, but the timing does seem to coincide with my recollection of when he was brought on. Assuming an annual contract, the timing would likely fit.

The Tribune, however, doesn’t dive into any of this background to provide essential context here. I also noticed that they did not include any statements from UTOPIA to provide balance to the story, though I imagine with pending litigation, they can’t really say too much anyway. This is the far too common behavior I’ve come to expect from Utah’s major media outlets when it comes to UTOPIA. They present very one-sided stories and practically cheerlead for UTOPIA’s failure from the editorial pages. There are two sides to every story, but outlets like the Tribune and Deseret “News” are only concerned with the doom-and-gloom side that moves papers.

The Non-Story of UTOPIA and Lawsuits

Today’s Deseret News ran an article about UTOPIA’s preparation for some pending litigation, but it’s not really much in the way of news. We all know that UTOPIA and RUS aren’t on each other’s Christmas card lists and that UTOPIA incurred some significant expenses as a result of the incompetence of that federal agency. Negotiations with RUS broke down months ago and UTOPIA was still left holding the bag. At this point, they really don’t have much of a choice but to go after RUS in court since a settlement could not be reached and the damages are in the tens of millions.

UTOPIA obviously can’t confirm nor deny anything at this point, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. The question, though, is why this is being cast in some kind of sneaky and sinister light. Only an idiot would openly discuss pending litigation in a public meeting, much less with members of the press. It’s also not uncommon to have internal agency meetings that don’t require public notice. I would bet that every city, county, state agency, and interlocal agency has done the same.

That said, I can understand why someone would be heavily suspicious. UTOPIA has always struggled with putting information out for public scrutiny. It isn’t helped when the incumbent guns-for-hire Utah “Taxpayers” Association regularly takes what information is public and distorts or outright fabricates negative information about the project.

Basically, there’s nothing to see here that you haven’t already heard through the grapevine. When there’s real news, they’ll probably put out a press release.

Broadband Bytes: Wednesday Edition

  • Popular Mechanics has an article about cable companies recompressing DTV signals. It also talks about bit rates and what makes HD look good or not.
  • Hate being forced to rent your cable box? This guy does to so he filed a class action lawsuit calling it an antitrust law violation. This would be one to watch the outcome here could mean the ability to purchase your HD Cable DVR from the company of our choice. Kind of like how you can walk into Walmart now and pick out a Cable modem of your choice.
  • Just how much bandwidth is enough? Telephonyonline.com has an article with a few metrics. For those of you who read the EDUCAUSE article A Blueprint for Big Broadband these numbers won’t be much different. But a good summerized look at how much bandwidth it takes to push HDTV over that fiber.
  • Wonder what broadband speeds in Utah look like? The Communications Workers of America have their 2nd report out. The data is compiled from the speed test application on their site.
  • This was mentioned in the FreeUTOPIA forums by Capt. Video. It looks like 400 or so residents in Canada are going to own the last mile of fiber to their home. The fiber will terminate at a common peering location. Which they then will be able to choose their provider. The fiber is their’s they can sell it with the house, lease it to the neighbors, even roll the purchase into their shiny new morgage.
  • American Airlines began offering broadband today on flights. Unfortunately, you have to pay $12.95 to use it.