The sponsoring cities and UTOPIA have the right concept. UTOPIA is now being better managed, and the network penetration is increasing. I know that they can start meeting their objectives and eventually be profitable, but their members need to continue to invest in them. The $54,000 that the city of Brigham needs to contribute to keep UTOPIA going is a small price to pay for the economic and consumer benefits the network brings. I’ve seen cities blow that much money on studies that are never implemented and just sit on a shelf. I hope Brigham residents and the council have the foresight to continue investing in this valuable asset.
By Nancy B. Fuller (Standard-Examiner correspondent)
BRIGHAM CITY — After months of rumors, the Brigham City Council had its first formal meeting with UTOPIA executive directors on options for implementation and long-term commitments for the city to continue with the fiber-optic network.
The meeting was held one hour before the regular city council meeting, which didn’t leave enough time for council members to address their concerns, so the council requested another meeting with UTOPIA.
A public hearing has been scheduled for 7 p.m. June 17 in the Brigham City Senior Center, 24 N. 300 West, giving time for residents to also address concerns.
Mayor Dennis Fife has asked that residents not rehash old problems but address concerns about the options currently being considered.
UTOPIA board chairman Kane Loader presented several options and reviewed problems UTOPIA has had. Loader said the agency had a steep learning curve because it is doing what no city entity has ever done before, bringing fiber-optic infrastructure into the state.
“We wanted a broadband network for all of our cities’ residents and business owners,” Loader said.
“We are already seeing a pricing difference because of UTOPIA. We are attracting new business and helped with the retention of businesses, such as GEM Engineering in Brigham City. Our challenges are, we need new subscribers to grow the network.”
Loader said UTOPIA began in 2002 with 11 cities pledging to provide a fiber-optic infrastructure for all service providers to use.
“Cities build infrastructure. That’s what cities do. That’s what UTOPIA provides. We are not in competition with incumbent service providers. We would love to have them come on board,” Loader said, adding that 15 service providers currently work on the network.
“More will come on this network because of the capabilities of fiber. Our vision is to keep the network open and not create monopolies that we’ve seen in the past.”
The first option presented was to call withdraw from the network.
“The cons to that option would be, the pledged cities would still be paying on the bond for another 30 years with nothing to show for it,” Loader said.
The next option was to have slow or no growth, which Loader said, “would stop the hemorrhaging, but not stop the bleeding.”
Another option would be to sell, but the city would not see a return on its investment because the network is incomplete.
Having a five-year detailed growth plan was yet another option.
“We have learned from Brigham City’s take rates. We need to have about 25 percent take rates in order to build.
With the take rates, we can do an incremental buildout with the individual communities having control of the purse strings,” Loader said.
The final option was to form an interlocal agency, Utah Infrastructure Agency.
The risk to Brigham City would be an additional $54,000 per year, which Councilman Bob Marabella said would translate into 95 cents per month per household.
Loader said UTOPIA has applied for grants, stimulus funds, and money from both the Rural Utilities Settlement and Google. Loader expects to hear from those sources this year.
Councilman Bob Marabella issued a challenge to residents of Brigham City who are unhappy with UTOPIA.
“Come up with a solution. We have to pay the $330,000 whether you like it or not. Come up with a solution.”