Although the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, also known as UTOPIA, is losing at least $200,000 per month on its ultra-fast Internet network, the company’s executive president said Tuesday that just quitting and cutting its losses is not an option.
"Going dark is a horrible option, it’s worse than where we sit to date," Todd Marriott said during a live video chat with The Salt Lake Tribune. "The taxpayers would get nothing for that effort and would actually end up owing more money. The way to do this is to proceed on the successful course we are on and look to enhance that course."
Marriott, who directs the consortium of 11 northern Utah cities building a fiber-optic Internet network, and Provo Mayor John Curtis joined Tribune reporters Tony Semerad and Jennifer Napier-Pearce, who served as moderator, for the weekly video chat to talk about the future of UTOPIA. The discussion also included the recent sale of the iProvo fiber-optic network to Google.
In the chat (which can be seen in its entirety in the video above), Marriott said that UTOPIA’s financial picture was improving and that the network was making progress "every day, every week, every month." He also insisted that the best way to turn UTOPIA into a success was for residents and businesses to start using it.
"Residents will be thrilled with it," he said of the network, which can reach up to a gigabit per second of download and upload speeds, a level a hundred times faster than a typical Comcast connection. "So it’s your community’s network. Use it. Be a part of it."
UTOPIA has been steeped in financial difficulties since its inception more than a decade ago and faces about $500 million in bond payments to pay for the network. Alternately, iProvo, a similar fiber-optic network that is not a part of UTOPIA, also was facing financial problems, as well as dealing with an aging network that needed updating.
"We have struggled as a city keeping up with something that changes as quickly as this does," Curtis said about the challenge of keeping iProvo technologically updated. "The network was now almost a decade old and needed some reinvestment. I was not prepared to go to my taxpayers and ask them for another bond to make that investment."
But iProvo found a way out. It sought a partnership with Google in which the search giant will turn iProvo into one of its Google Fiber networks, making Provo one of only three markets in the U.S. to have one, including the Kansas City area and Austin, Texas.
In exchange for the network, Google has promised to update it and give residents free 5 megabit-per-second Internet connectivity for at least seven years. Provo, mostly through tax funds, will still have to pony up the $39 million on the bond to pay for the network.
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