UTOPIA director resigns
Tech • Head of fiber optic network steps down amid possibility of a new firm taking over.
Published: January 31, 2014 02:00PM
Updated: January 31, 2014 07:35AM
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Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune ìI think weíve been addressing them [the mistakes] for sure, but we welcome the audit,î said UTOPIA Executive Director Todd Marriott, seen here at an event in June. ìIt allows you to fine tune and get better. We had to make a lot of changes, and we continue to do so.î

Todd Marriott, the executive director charged with turning around the troubled high-speed Internet network known as UTOPIA, has stepped down, it was announced Thursday.

UTOPIA board chairman, Wayne Pyle, said the board approached Marriott about the resignation, and the decision was mutual.

“We just felt like it was time to move on and go in another direction. Having had a conversation with him, he was fine with that,” Pyle said Thursday night. “We’re in a transition time here.

“We’re going to want and need his support, and he’s going to give that to us going forwad,” Pyle added. “He’s just a font of information. He really has given a great contribution to the network and the cities at a time that was very difficult for us.”

Marriott’s cellphone mailbox was full, and he was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon.

The news comes just a month after it was announced that Australian investment company, Macquarie Capital Group, has expressed interest in investing in UTOPIA and would complete construction of the network and operate it under a public-private partnership. Macquarie, which has invested in public-private partnerships on a variety of other projects in the U.S., is conducting a feasibility study over the next couple of months before it decides to take on UTOPIA.Pyle, who also is West Valley City’s city manager, said Macquarie did not have any part in the decision for Marriott’s resignation.

UTOPIA is a high-speed gigabit Internet network operated by a consortium of 11 northern Utah cities from Brigham City to Payson. Since it started 11 years ago, UTOPIA — which stands for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency — has struggled with problems over its construction, management, and failed deals with vendors. To pay for the network, the member cities issued two rounds of bonds totaling up to $500 million in debt over 40 years. So far, UTOPIA has only signed up about 11,200 subscribers, well below its original projections.

Marriott was not a part of the original management team when UTOPIA began. In 2008, he was called in to take over the struggling project and a new leadership team was brought in.

Pyle acknowledged that over time Marriott did develop troubled relationships with some representatives of the member cities, and that was a part of the overall decision for his resignation.

“Any one in that kind of position . . . you’re going to build relationships and have relationships with people who aren’t happy. Some of that accumulation does have some effect,” Pyle said. “But he did bring a lot of value to the system, and he did great things for the network.”

If Macquarie takes over UTOPIA, the deal would involve the firm completing the build out of the network and taking over its operation for 30 years as part of a revenue-sharing contract with the member cities.

Macquarie has invested in or advised on 114 businesses globally including airports, roads, bridges, rail projects, sea ports, water and gas projects. It also has worked on telecommunications projects such as the building of cell towers. If it takes over UTOPIA, it would be Macquarie’s first foray into building a fiber-optic network.

vince@sltrib.com

Twitter: @ohmytech