BroadbandBreakfast.com: UTOPIA, Perfection or Fantasy: Partnering public-private sectors with broadband

Leonard Grace, Expert Opinion, BroadbandBreakfast.com

Utopia

Utopia: the definition brings about visions of an “ideal place or state”, or “a system of political and social perfection.” Thus became the name chosen for a consortium of sixteen Utah cities building their own broadband infrastructure with a fiber-to-the-premise architecture, while offering residents a clear and alternative choice to incumbent operators, including Quest and Comcast.  Is it perfection or fantasy?

UTOPIA, billed as providing light-speed to your door while connecting you with friends, family, entertainment, businesses, healthcare, and education, highlights itself as being part of your home, not owned by any network provider. It is unique in that UTOPIA is part of a combined network owned by connected cities, and therefore citizens of each community. It allows any network provider to use the infrastructure to offer related consumers services in an effort to create more competition within the broadband universe, and to provide rural residents state of the art fiber connections to their homes.

Overview:

  • Maintained by city employees, UTOPIA requires a deposit to participate just as citizens would pay for a sewer connection to their home
  • A monthly service fee is charged to maintain the system which includes maintenance, and billing just as with electric, water & sewer services
  • Open Access Network – open to various service providers which have access to the network

UTOPIA  Service Providers:

Brigham.net: Prime Time Communications Connected Lyfe
Nuvont Communications FIBERNET Veracity Communications
FUZECORE integra TELECOM Telesphere
XMISSION VOONAMI

Currently with eleven listed service providers using the network, UTOPIA is offering a variety of services to residents within its service area. In the past two years since hiring new management, subscriber growth has doubled from previous levels beginning from 2002. UTOPIA indicates a need to add another twenty thousand customers quickly to ensure the long-term viability of the consortiums investment.

This venture is similar to what Google has committed to accomplish with its advertised foray into the broadband infrastructure arena touting network speeds one-hundred times faster than those typically offered today. Goggle will also operate an (open access network) allowing multiple service providers to offer subscribers a wide variety of enhanced applications and services. See (Think big with a gig: Our experimental fiber network)

Divergent Industry Infrastructures

Historically, Cable operators have chosen the hybrid-fiber coax architecture to build out their networks, with Docsis 3, and GPON to gain efficiencies in bandwidth. Others like Verizon, UTOPIA, and now Google have opted to use fiber-to-the-premise, a total fiber network to connect customers to a true high-powered and hefty bandwidth architecture, which can offer deep access to both existing and future applications.

While the hybrid-fiber-coax construction is less expensive on the front end, it is not considered the long-term or end game solution. Total fiber construction is more expensive on the front end, but as costs continue to come down more service providers will opt to consider this solution.

Perfection or Fantasy

UTOPIA, Verizon, and Google’s networks will have to be proven profitable both in the short and long-term to be considered viable alternatives in private industry adoption. The heavy capital expenditures on the front end for fiber-to-the-premise construction must be coupled with robust adoption by customers to not only reach a break-even cash flow standpoint, but go on to make a reasonable profit.

This will be critical in obtaining needed capital for companies going forward, where UTOPIA is using bond issues along with pre-paid deposits and long-term subscription agreements to fund its venture. There is no doubt that fiber-to-the-premise is robust alternative from an operational standpoint with its high speeds, hefty bandwidth, and future applications potential.

About Mark Milliman

Mark Milliman is a Principal Consultant at Inphotonics Research driving the adoption and assisting local governments to plan, build, operate, and lease access open-access municipal broadband networks. Additionally, he works with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to increase the value of their intellectual capital through the creation of strategic product plans and execution of innovative marketing strategies. With more than 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry that began at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Mark has built fiber, cable, and wireless networks around the world to deliver voice, video, and data services. His thorough knowledge of all aspects of service delivery from content creation to the design, operation, and management of the network is utilized by carriers and equipment manufacturers. Mark conceived and developed one of the industry's first multi-service provisioning platform and is multiple patent holder. He is active in the IEEE as a senior member. Mark received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.
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