Utah-based Telecoms such as Voonami Applaud UTOPIA Plan

November 05, 2010 

More than a dozen entrepreneurs are applauding votes by eight Utah cities to press forward with a plan to continue expanding the country’s leading open access fiber-optic network. The service providers on the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) network represent hundreds of jobs for Utah residents – and more choice among providers for residents that use the network than any other network in the United States. The cities are coming together to create a new bond, up to $62 M over the next several years, to continue to grow the UTOPIA fiber network under a new interlocal agreement, the Utah Infrastructure Agency (UIA).

“This is a huge win for Utah-based companies that want to supply their services to more homes and businesses,” said Connected Lyfe CEO Robert Bryson. “This public infrastructure gives Utah entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow in this economy.”

UTOPIA’s fiber network operates much like the airport—the city governments build the infrastructure, and then allow the private sector to use the network to compete to provide services. “No one insists that Delta and Southwest Airlines build their own airport,” said Voonami President Ben Bush. “It makes good economic sense for government to build infrastructure that businesses can share. That’s exactly what UTOPIA is: sound public policy.”

XMission President Pete Ashdown points out that large, out-of-state telecoms enjoy their current duopoly and do not want the increased competition that public fiber networks create. “You have Comcast and Qwest heavily backing the Utah Taxpayer’s Association, who then acts as their front in attacking UTOPIA,” he said, “but it should be remembered that many Utah-based companies are able to survive and thrive because of this needed public infrastructure.”

One such entrepreneur is Brigham.net founder Ken Sutton. “Asking me to build me own telecom line to every home in Utah is like asking a small delivery company to build their own turnpike to drive on,” Sutton said. “It makes no sense when we can use shared public infrastructure like UTOPIA.”

National technology experts, like Google, are beginning to commend the open access paradigm, like UTOPIA, as the key to the Internet’s future. “It is that openness, the ability that anyone can play” that will “drive the modern economy,” said Google CEO Eric Scmidt. The problem, he said, is there’s almost no competition for high-speed broadband connectivity in most markets in the United States. The Utah cities of UTOPIA are becoming a big exception to this because they are building an open fiber network where businesses of all sizes can compete.

For their part, city officials are pleased to see the network ramping up to expand. “The last thing we want is a dozen telecom companies digging up our streets to run lines everywhere,” said Murray Mayor Dan Snarr. “It makes far more sense to have an open network that all of these companies can use, and that is what UTOPIA is all about. We invite any business interested in using the network to come on board, because we are gearing up for growth!”

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