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Executive of troubled UTOPIA sees hope in Google Fiber deal

Published April 17, 2013 7:51 pm

Utah • 11 cities own fiber-optic network that's $475M in debt.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The head of Utah's other municipally run fiber-optic Internet network, UTOPIA, said Wednesday's news that Google Fiber is coming to Provo is "music to our ears."

"It does validate the value of these networks," said Todd Marriott, executive director of the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency. He added that the nation needs ultra-fast gigabit Internet networks so they can help spur more innovation in business and in schools.

"Ultimately, UTOPIA will be vindicated in showing that this is a critical infrastructure."

Google and Provo officials announced Wednesday that Google plans to buy the city's existing high-speed Internet network known as iProvo and turn it into Google Fiber. The deal in no way involves or affects UTOPIA.

UTOPIA is a similar network owned by 11 Utah cities — from Tremonton to Payson — that is steeped in financial trouble. All participating entities are backing a $185 million bond that puts them at about $475 million in debt through annual sales-tax payments through 2040, growing by 2 percent yearly. Additionally, a second bond was issued and approved for $60 million under a separate entity called the Utah Infrastructure Agency.

Although UTOPIA executives have had some discussions with private companies in the past about a purchase of the network or a partnership — none of them with Google — nothing has materialized, according to UTOPIA spokesman Gary Jones.

UTOPIA has about 11,000 customers and is expected to have the backbone of its network completed in all 11 cities by June. About 40 percent of homes and businesses have connections to that backbone and are capable of getting access to the network.

The network, which is owned by the cities but sold to customers through private service providers, also has a gigabit-per-second service similar to Google Fiber's. But it costs $300 per month, depending on the service provider, plus a $2,750 installation and equipment fee that can be paid all at once or through a lease.

vince@sltrib.com

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