If Macquarie wants to win over cost-wary cities, they may need a new plan

macquarie_logo_2638In all of the city council discussions over the Macquarie deal, the conversation has been dominated by the potential cost of the utility fee. Even with the extremely high probability of generating enough revenue to cover the utility fee and reduce the bond payment, it’s all about what how much money is going to be collected from the cities. This has sunk the deal in about half of UTOPIA cities and looms as a threat over the ones that opted to get more details under Milestone Two. If Macquarie wants this to pass, they need to quash this main opposition talking point.

My projections are that this Macquarie deal creates a whole lot of money, both for Macquarie and the cities. Macquarie is operating in a very risk averse fashion despite this. They need to put more skin in the game in order to get current UTOPIA cities to take the deal and expand it across the state and the nation like they want. With their size and the low break-even point (35%-ish take rate), that should be easy to do.

Macquarie could alter the deal to eliminate or sharply reduce the direct utility fee. In its place, they should stipulate that they take 100% of the wholesale revenues until what would have been the utility fee is covered, then go back to the revenue split for any money beyond that. This would remove the possibility of cities having to pay anything for the deal and creates a small (and very remote) risk of them taking in less money than what it costs them to operate the network. There would be no way to scaremonger that the cities would be creating a huge tax on residents.

This is still a really good deal for cities. They eliminate all operational and maintenance costs associated with the network. If it doesn’t work, the only money they have to pay is the original bonds that they would have had to pay anyway. If it does work, they lower the bond payments. Either way, the network gets done, they eliminate the operational costs, and they get a completed network back at the end of 30 years.

There’s still downsides to this approach. Macquarie had planned to bond for 80% of the money needed to complete the build. The utility fee ensured that they could secure the best possible rates to do so. Without that kind of security, they would have to find alternate financing options or direct money internally to the project (and away from other projects). It could be harder for Macquarie to pull together the money and it will definitely mean that the revenue split for cities would be much smaller. It also means that Macquarie could end up not meeting their required ROI.

Maybe what Macqaurie could do is offer the cities three options and let each city pick the one that works for them. Option 1 would be the current utility fee with a maximum amount of revenue sharing to the cities. Option 2 would be no utility fee, but the cities have much lower odds of getting any kind of wholesale revenue split. Option 3 would be a lowered utility fee with a lowered share of wholesale revenues going to the cities. This would allow a lot of flexibility in how cities can opt in. It also allows Macquarie to at least partially take advantage of lower interest rates for the cities who take Option 1.

So far, Macquarie hasn’t played the politics of the situation very well at all. Despite a few big successes in the beginning, they’ve gotten their clocks cleaned in most of the cities that voted later and they haven’t been willing to accept that this is a full-scale war, not some alley fight. I’m hoping that they’ve paid attention and are willing to look at ways to keep this a good deal all around while defusing the biggest arguments against taking the deal.

How does the Macquarie deal stack up against the other options? Very favorably

macquarie_logo_2638When evaluating if the Macquarie deal puts UTOPIA cities ahead or not, we have to figure out what the cost of doing nothing would be. As pointed out in the previous analysis, the monthly cost per household in the Macquarie deal will range from $11.48 on the high end to $0.96 on the low end. Staying the course is actually a lot more expensive than taking the deal. Allow me break down the numbers.

The current bond obligations, including future interest, are around $500M. If 163K households make payments for 30 years, that works out to around $8.52 per month per household. This isn’t the entirety of the costs, however. Based on 2013 financial data, UTOPIA has an annual operational shortfall of $2,410,380. This is around $1.23 per month per household on top of the bond debt. This brings the cost of doing nothing up to $9.75 per month per household. But wait, there’s more. The network requires a hardware refresh about every seven years at a cost of about $40M a pop. This adds another $2.92 per month per household to the total bringing it up to a whopping $12.67 per month per household. Macquarie is offering a much less expensive option on the table.

So what about versus the cost of shuttering the network? Assuming that the network could sell for $30M (based on the offers made to Provo), you’re still left with a cost of $470M or $8.01 per  month per household. To hit the break even point with the Macquarie deal, you’d need a take rate between 33.5% and 38.2% depending on the utility fee. If you want to plug in your own figures for take rate and utility fee to determine the monthly cost per household, open up this spreadsheet and give it a whirl.

Staying the course is obviously not an option. Hitting a wash point with selling the network as-is seems like a bad one given how close it is to the same cost as the Macquarie deal. This is just further evidence that the cities need to move forward with Milestone Two and accept the resulting final offer.


Hans V. Anderson Jr.’s Curious Definition of Failing

I suppose it could be possible for UTOPIA opponents and critics to make their case without lies or misrepresentation, but much like discovering how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know. The latest example is an op-ed published in the Daily Herald from Orem City Council Member Hans V. Anderson Jr. In addition to many of the usual talking points, he makes multiple assertions that contradict what we already know about the deal with Macquarie.

For starters, he’s stating that Macquaries investment would be a loan. No published source has stated this at all. In fact, the published information is that the money would be a required network investment similar to what Google did in Provo. If it’s actually a loan, how is it that Anderson is the only one reporting such, especially when numerous city council members and mayors were at the same meetings?

Anderson then asserts that a proposed utility fee is actually intended to repay Macquarie for their investment. His own source, however, show that it is to retire the existing bond service. Instead of covering bond service from the general fund, it would be a clear line item spread across all Oremites, similar to how Provo assigned the debt service from iProvo to everyone in the city, subscriber or not. It seems very curious that he would contradict himself to make the utility fee into something it is not.

So what, exactly, is failing? UTOPIA has met or exceeded every financial goal under it’s current five-year plan. It’s now bringing in a partner to finish the network, relieve the cities of shouldering any operating expense shortfall, and likely provide some revenues to reduce or retire the proposed utility fee. I don’t see anything for someone who wants to lessen Orem’s financial load to be upset about at all. Why is Hans furious to the point of lying?

This is what happens when UTOPIA opponents want failure at any cost. Any success, no matter the size, must be turned into failure in order to prove their larger ideological point. Instead of retreating to the absolutely defensible and logical “I don’t like this approach” position, they have to cling to the “it just doesn’t work” one, evidence be damned. I hope the citizens of Orem will ask themselves which kind of elected official they want running their city.