From a fiscal perspective, it’s easy to see why they made the decision. Since joining the network, the population has grown by several thousand, so there are a lot more homes to cover. At this point, there’s less than a decade of the original bond payments left for them to make. I’m sure they’re figuring that the cost to pay off the bond and walk away from their share of the network is less than taking the deal. Unfortunately, it also means that the city probably has little chance of seeing an open-access fiber network. Anyone who’s using the network in Payson is probably also looking at going dark Real Soon Now(TM).
I’ve just received an updated list of what meetings and votes are currently scheduled to take place regarding Macquarie’s proposal to UTOPIA. As always, theses are subject to change and could be added to. If you hear anything, let me know and I’ll update accordingly.
Public Meetings and Town Halls:
June 3 @ 7:00PM, Lindon: Lindon City Center, 100 N State St, Lindon
June 4 @ 7:00PM, Tremonton: Bear River High, 1450 S Main St, Garland
June 5 @ 5:00PM, Orem: Orem Senior Friendship Center, 93 N 400 E, Orem
June 5 @ 6:30PM, Murray: Doty Education Center, Building 6 of the Intermountain Medical Center, 5121 S Cottonwood St, Murray
June 5 @ 7:30PM, Centerville: Centerville City Hall, 250 N Main St, Centerville
June 17 @ 7:00PM, Lindon: Lindon City Centr, 100 N State St, Lindon
June 17 @ 7:30PM, Centerville: Centerville City Hall, 250 N Main St, Centerville
June 19 @ 6:00PM, Orem: Orem Senior Friendship Center, 93 N 400 E, Orem
June 5 @ 7:00PM, Layton: Layton City Hall, 437 N Wasatch Dr, Layton
June 18 @ 6:00PM, Payton: Payson City Hall, 439 W Utah Ave, Payson
June 24 @ 6:30PM, Murray: Murray City Hall, 5025 S State St, Murray
June 24, Centerville: Centerville City Hall, 250 N Main St, Centerville
June 26, Orem: Orem City Hall, 56 N State St, Orem
June 26 @ 7:00PM, Perry: Perry City Hall, 3005 W 1200 S, Perry
Some of these are cutting it pretty close to the deadline to respond of June 27. Payson is reportedly interested in finding out more, but their years of not attending board meetings with any regularity has left a huge information and expertise vacuum within the city government. I haven’t heard anything about Perry at all. Brigham City will be voting on the proposal either on June 19 or 26 during the regularly scheduled council meeting.
Want to ask Macquarie some more burning questions? Interested in seeing how your city council votes? Here’s the so-far definitive list of what is happening and where. Note that any of these is subject to change and I’ll do my best to publish updates.
Thursday May 22: Brigham City will have an open house at the Bunderson Center, 641 E 200 N, from 6PM to 8PM. Macquarie will be there to answer one-on-one questions.
Tuesday May 27: Orem will have Nick Hann at the regular city council meeting to answer questions and take feedback. The council meets at 3PM in the Public Safety Training Room.
Tuesday May 27: Both West Valley City and Layton will be taking votes on advancing with Milestone Two during their normal city council meetings.
Tuesday June 3: Lindon will have a public discussion item on the city council agenda. They meet 7PM at the Lindon City Center on State St.
Thursday June 5: Murray will have an open house at the Doty Center inside the Intermountain Medical Center complex. It starts at 6:30PM.
Thursday June 5: Centerville will have an open house, education session, and public Q&A at 7:30PM. I’m assuming it’s at city hall, but the location is unclear.
Tuesday June 17: Centerville, Tremonton, and Lindon should all be taking votes on advancing with Milestone Two during their normal city council meetings.
Notably absent from the list are Payson and Perry, cities that seem to have adopted “bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best” as their strategy. If you live in either city, you should contact your mayor and city council to give them a nudge.
For quite some time now, Payson has seemed to be afflicted with a huge case of buyer’s remorse about UTOPIA. Back in 2008, they opted to not participate in the new round of bonding and later punted on joining the UIA. (Who knows if they’ll even come up with the matching funds to participate in the federal stimulus either.) The biggest shocker, though, comes from a review of UTOPIA board minutes. A review of these shows that Payson’s UTOPIA board member hasn’t been showing up to many of the meetings, even when one was held in Payson at what I can imagine was great inconvenience to the members of the other cities.
My review of the minutes shows that in 2009, Payson did not attend nine of the monthly board meetings. In 2010, eight meetings were missed. Neither of the 2011 board meetings with available minutes show that Payson was in attendance, and I’m willing to bet that the others that I don’t have minutes for would show a similar pattern. Making it to just five meetings in over two years is abysmal, especially when there’s the option to participate via phone.
Given the large amount of stranded investment in the city and Payson’s large financial commitments to the network, this seems like a total abdication of their responsibility to city taxpayers. Shouldn’t they be making an effort to get the network covering both operational costs and debt service? Wouldn’t it be prudent to set aside money for participating in the UIA, money that is guaranteed to be paid back by subscribers and utilize infrastructure already in the ground? Why would Payson do an ostrich impersonation in the face of the harsh fiscal realities?
If I were a resident of Payson, I’d be out for blood. Contact Councilman Brad Daley and let him know that if he’s going to be on the board, he has a responsibility to show up to meetings and do the people’s work, especially since he voted for UTOPIA in the first place. If he won’t do it, it’s time to pressure Mayor Rick Moore to find someone who will.
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.
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.
Unsurprisingly, Payson is hand-wringing over joining the new Utah Infrastruture Agency over financial concerns. On Wednesday, the city council opted to put off making a decision until August 4 as they worried openly both about the cost and how much say they would have in the new agency. Payson is about 30% connected and city leaders feel like if they don’t join, they won’t see any new construction.
And really, that’s true. The UTOPIA money well is empty and until the system is operating in the black, there will be nothing with which to build. The UIA is an attempt to solve this lack of capital while not putting the cities themselves on the hook for more money. Given the tone that Payson is using, it sounds to me like they either don’t understand the proposal before them or are operating purely on deer-in-headlights fear.
It’s not surprising to see that Payson’s city council members haven’t developed any new intestinal fortitude since they tucked tail and made a calculated vote against the new bond two years ago. I personally feel like they’re repeating the mistakes of American Fork, jumping in with a lot of initial enthusiasm and not having the wherewithal to see the vision through. Any elected official who operates with that kind of short-sighted eye towards instant gratification can’t be counted on in tough times. To be blunt, they’re cowards, afraid to do what is necessary and acting in shameless self-interest.
Grow a pair already, Payson. I’m sure you’re wearing thin on the rest of the cities too.
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.