Utah Taxpayers Association Spews More Lies

Several UTOPIA member cities are gearing up to start taking votes on the new Utah Infrastructure Agency designed to help fund new construction of the network. The Utah Taxpayers Association is trying to get people to show up at these meetings to protest the UIA and try and kill it. In their effort to do so, they continue to distort, twist, and outright lie in their efforts to rile people up.

First off, the UIA bonds are not an unconditional loan. They are funds that will be secured by payments from subscribers. If there aren’t enough subscribers to secure repayment, the money doesn’t get touched. You would think that such an arrangement would be acceptable to an organization that purports to represent taxpayers as it clearly shifts the burden from the taxpayers as a whole to the subscribers. Attempting to characterize the UIA as a big grab-bag is a big lie.

Secondly, the UTA says that UTOPIA is running a $20M deficit in “operating expenses”. The problem, however, is that their version of “operating expenses” is entirely unclear. I’m betting that they chose to include equipment depreciation and possibly even the bond payments in that figure in order to paint a much more dire picture than actually exists. For all of the accusations by the UTA that UTOPIA doesn’t disclose enough information, it’s hypocritical and extremely irresponsible of them to distort the numbers for the purposes of supporting their arguments.

Remember the last time the UTA tried to organize an anti-UTOPIA protest? UTOPIA and its supporters showed up and ended up turning half of the attendees into subscribers. Let’s show them it can be done again. Centerville meets tonight (October 19) at 7PM, Orem is October 26 at 6PM, and Payson is October 27 at 6PM. All meetings are at the respective city hall. Let’s show the UTA that lying won’t get them very far.

Orem City Manager Jim Reams Passes Away

Those of you who have been following UTOPIA for some time will recognize the name Jim Reams. As Orem’s City Manager and the city’s UTOPIA board member, he was instrumental in pushing the 2008 bonds forward and was gracious enough to arrange meeting space for myself and other UTOPIA supporters in Orem. Every interaction I had with him was unfailingly pleasant and he was an all-around good guy. I was saddened to learn this morning that he passed away last night of an apparent heart attack at just 53. Whoever takes his place has some mighty big shoes to fill.

You can read the articles at the Daily Herald, Deseret News, and Salt Lake Tribune.

What does the broadband stimulus mean for UTOPIA?

Now that UTOPIA has $16.2M in federal funding, the question is what it’s going to do. The money itself is specifically to hook up “anchor institutions” such as schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, and government buildings. This money will be used to run fiber to over 400 buildings in Perry, Payson, Midvale, Murray, Centerville, Layton, Orem, and West Valley City. With those connections in the ground, it will be much less expensive to build out to nearby neighborhoods. That is, provided that your city joined the UIA and is willing to finance the cost of installations. A few cities are either in opposition to or on the fence about joining the UIA, so the fiber would stop at those anchor institutions. Time is limited to get them on the boat, so make sure you’re hounding them about joining.

And if you want to, go take a look at the original press release.

Rally Fail: UTOPIA Hijacks Utah Taxpayers Association Event

The Utah “Taxpayers” Association thought it would get an upper hand with a BBQ in Orem just before the city council voted on a new construction bond. Unfortunately for them, the plan backfired when UTOPIA made a surprise appearance at the event with their “mobile command center” and started actually talking directly with the meeting attendees, many of whom had no opinion of UTOPIA yet and came to get more information. According to my sources, about half of the 250 or so attendees ended up registering their interest in UTOPIA services, a major coup for the network that upstaged their most vocal opponent.

Apparently what convinced a lot of the undecideds was the UTA’s refusal to disclose who pays their bills. That lack of transparency translated directly into looking like they have something to hide (hint: it’s Qwest and Comcast dollars) and left many looking at their fantastic claims skeptically. I’d like to say that there were some talking points to address, but an eyewitness account called it so much kool-aid drinking, a series of incomprehensible rants filled with insinuation, innuendo, insults, and no concrete addressable facts. In contrast, UTOPIA discussed their new business plan with individual residents and offered demonstrations of how well the service can work. Truth has power and it wasn’t on the UTA’s side.

In attendance were Rep. Mike Morley, UTA VP Royce Van Tassell, UTA President Sen. Howard Stephenson, Rep. Steve Sandstrom, and Sen. Margaret Dayton (who did not speak). UTOPIA openly challenged both Stephenson and Van Tassell to provide outside oversight of their plan, an offer which they declined to accept. Considering that the UTA regularly chides UTOPIA for mismanagement and secrecy, I would think they’d jump at the chance to look at things from the inside. If nothing else, they could fabricate some juicy new attacks from half-truths. This says a lot about the true motivations of the Utah “Taxpayers” Association. If they really wanted to keep an eye on UTOPIA for the benefit of all taxpayers, why would they turn this down?

Please, UTA, consider holding more of these events. As many as you want. You come out looking like fools and UTOPIA gains even more customers and mindshare. I’ll even volunteer for the dunk tank.

Also, see coverage from the Deseret News and Daily Herald. Bonus: I’ve got about a paragraph in the Herald article.

As a side note, I saw it reported that the connections on the new plan will be $50/mo plus service, but I don’t know if that’s accruate and haven’t gotten a reply to an e-mail I sent Monday seeking clarification. It’s also unclear how much a service provider tacks on top of that if that is the case, though it had better be well south of $20/mo for Internet. You’ll know more when I do.

Utah Infrastructure Agency Moving Forward

Remember UTOPIA’s new plan to shift the cost of the network from the cities onto subscribers? It’s been moving forward in the form of the Utah Infrastructure Agency, a way for cities to bond for construction without having to put taxpayers as a whole on the hook. So far, West Valley City, Lindon, Midvale, Layton, and Orem are on board with Perry and Tremonton deciding to sit it out. Other cities are still considering signing up for it and need to hear from you.

So what exactly does this do? In short, it’s the next evolution beyond the SAA used in Brigham City. The SAA model was to¬† find demand, form an SAA, and then get the funds to start construction. The UIA will, instead, get the money first, find the areas of demand, and then start construction once it becomes feasible. Just like the SAA, the subscribers that get hooked up under the arrangement will be the ones footing the bill. This speeds up the process of connecting customers while still continuing to shift the burden of supporting the network away from cities and onto those who get service.

To be quite honest, I can’t see why a city wouldn’t be all over this. There’s no cost to the cities to participate and increased subscribers will only decrease or eliminate the called pledges. Given the benefits to the taxpayer, that they are taken off the hook, you’d think the Utah “Taxpayers” Association would be all for it. (Fat chance, I know.) The good news is that any city that doesn’t elect to participate now can always reconsider in the future. If your city has already declined to join (or does so in the future), you can still pester them until they reconsider.

Note: While Orem was part of the founding group of the UIA, they haven’t taken an official vote on the matter yet. There will be a public hearing on Tuesday after which the Orem City Council will decide if they will join. They chose the new bond in a 6-0 vote last time around, but the UTA is holding their rally just before the meeting to try and pack the house with opponents and scare council members into reversing course. It’s very important that UTOPIA supporters turn out in force both at the rally and the meeting to thwart these efforts. I hear there’s going to be a fun surprise for the UTA during their BBQ, so show up and be prepared for a laugh at their expense.

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.

Utah Tops In Internet Adoption, But What About Speeds?

The Deseret News reported that Utah has the highest rate of Internet use of any state, topping out at 74.8% of homes. In a “well duh” moment, they attribute it to the young population and large concentration of tech companies. What was missing, however, is the full picture on how we’re doing speed-wise.

And that, friends, is a mixed bag. According to the results from SpeedTest.net, Utah doesn’t even crack the top 10 for download speeds. We do, however, place second when it comes to upload speeds, no doubt due to symmetrical connections available on the various fiber networks in our state. When you narrow in on our state, the best download and upload speeds come from Lindon and Orem, both cities with UTOPIA fiber. Provo comes in fourth on both lists with Broadweave/iProvo. Incumbents don’t fare so well. Qwest doesn’t crack either top 10 list and Comcast only makes the download list.

We should be demanding not just that Internet access be widespread, but that it be high-quality as well. The incumbents’ inability to deliver next-generation bandwidth is leaving us far behind the rest of the pack.

U-CAN Report: July 26 2008, Orem

Today’s meeting of U-CAN in Orem went really well with some good attendance. Residents are largely frustrated at the delays and lack of information as to when UTOPIA would be deployed in their area and are very interested in having the network succeed. We had one of the UTOPIA NOC employees on-hand today (he moved from the iProvo NOC) as well as a consultant who’s been working with some of the new prospective service providers and a lot of good information came forth.

  • An established triple-play provider is really close to joining the network once they negotiate transport fees and they plan to market primarily to residences. This should be announced within a few weeks. Those of you looking for an Mstar alternative, look no more!
  • It’s possible to order different services from different providers, but the providers don’t really know how to do it. One example of this is a subscriber who has data from XMission, voice from Nuvont and video from Mstar. If you have trouble getting the provider to offer you an unbundled service, contact your rep on the UTOPIA board to get it moving.
  • UTOPIA isn’t currently equipped to handle adding new pledging cities. If you’ve been trying to get your city council on board, you need to step back and wait for a bit. Most city councils want to see how things function with the new financing and leadership before committing anyway.
  • Paul Recanzone was kind enough to show us some footprint maps of where service can be found in Orem. Stick to central parts of the city to ensure that service is available and always do a check for it before moving.
  • One interesting possibility was to market UTOPIA to cell phone providers to offer backhaul for their towers. The decreased transport fees make sense for Cricket, Sprint, AT&T, etc. and UTOPIA could bag a lot of revenue in the process.
  • UTOPIA may look at adding wireless to the fiber backbone, either via 802.11g/n or 802.16 (WiMax). This would allow voice providers to do cellular service. In the case of WiMax, it would also allow roaming on Clearwire and allow for service outside of the Wasatch Front. That’s just in the idea stage, so don’t count on seeing anything soon.
  • One meeting attendee said that he was aware of Qwest and Comcast purposefully planting moles in UTOPIA providers to try and sabotage the companies from within and that this was a primary cause of Mstar’s near-collapse. I know they’re underhanded, but I’m not sure to what extent they’d try and do something quite this dirty.

Next U-CAN Meeting: July 26 in Orem

The next meeting of the UTOPIA Citizen’s Advisory Network (U-CAN) will be held on Saturday July 26th at noon in the Commission for Economic Development Office (CEDO) conference room at 777 S State St in Orem. As usual, anyone interested in getting more information about UTOPIA, getting updates on the progress of the network or helping UTOPIA succeed is welcome to join.

I’m also working on something a little less formal on Tuesday July 29th in the evening for Salt Lake County as an interim meeting. Announcements will be made as I firm up a location.

Report From the Initial Meeting of U-CAN

Today was the inaugural meeting of the UTOPIA Citizens Advisory Network or U-CAN for short. Attendance was about a dozen and we had some great conversations getting caught up on the status of UTOPIA and an idea of where it's going. Some highlights:

  • UTOPIA is looking at using Special Assessment Areas to expand services in non-member areas and unincorporated county lands. It's a voluntary tax increase in order to pay for deploying the network and doing the installation costs in a specified area that takes advantage of 15-year government bonds and the low interest rates they enjoy. The cost of installation will be assessed entirely to members of the SAA.
  • There's going to be some announcements soon on new service providers as soon as next week. Up to 4 could be announced over the next month and at least one is rumored to be interested in providing triple-play services.
  • The new bond closed in late May as planned, so we may yet see construction by August. The UTOPIA website is actively soliciting new employees, a Business Sales Director and Teams Coordinator, as well as an RFP for asset management software and services.
  • Speaking of UTOPIA's website, they are working on a new one with more updates and information. This will also include a mapping application to show you where the demand for UTOPIA is so you can find out if your neighborhood is higher or lower on the priority list.

Meetings are going to be held at least monthly and will rotate between the member cities to give everyone an equal chance to participate. I'm also planning on provisional monthly meetings outside of this rotation for Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties to encourage better participation in pledging member cities. The regular monthly meetings will be as follows:

  • July 2008: Orem (Utah County)
  • August 2008: Layton (Davis County)
  • September 2008: Brigham City (Box Elder County)
  • October 2008: Murray (Salt Lake County)
  • November 2008: Lindon (Utah County)
  • December 2008: Centerville (Davis County)

I'll announce the meeting times and locations here on the website as they are scheduled. Meetings will be tentatively planned for the 4th Saturday of the month at noon. If you want to receive U-CAN related announcements via e-mail, send a blank message to ucan-announce-subscribe@freeutopia.org to get on the mailing list.