UTOPIA: Titanic or Starship Enterprise?
Eleven cities are heavily invested in the high-speed fiber-optic network known as UTOPIA. In addition to the three cities Orem, Brigham City and Centerville highlighted more fully, eight others have a stake in the decade-old project. Here is the status of each:
Tremonton • UTOPIA fiber winds through 96 percent of this Box Elder County city, but only about 15 percent of residents who can access the network have connected. Though pledged to pay about $12 million in UTOPIA debts through 2040, the city has refused to join the Utah Infrastructure Agency, created by UTOPIA to borrow an additional $60 million to finish its network.
Perry • UTOPIA conduits wind beneath about two-thirds of the small city just south of Brigham City, "but there is no fiber inside it," Perry Public Works Director Paul Nelson said. "They left us high and dry, except for the bill." As a pledging UTOPIA member, Perry's 4,500 residents are on the hook for just over $2 million of its debt, but the city's grid remains unfinished and has no subscribers. Perry officials opted not to join the second round of financing.
Layton • Mayor Steve Curtis believes UTOPIA fiber-optic lines already are luring business to his Davis County city and benefiting residents. The grid is built out to a small portion of Layton, one of eight municipalities that have signed on for a second round of UTOPIA bonds. "A lot of legislators don't understand UTOPIA and haven't taken the time to know it," Curtis said.
West Valley City • The largest of UTOPIA cities, West Valley City shoulders the biggest financial obligation but has one of the smallest network build-outs, at 16 percent. UTOPIA invested more than $1 million to install cable and conduit systems in one West Valley neighborhood that has 27 subscribers. Nonetheless, there are key UTOPIA supporters among the city's elected leaders, including Mayor Mike Winder, and a majority of council members voted in 2010 to back UTOPIA's new bonds.
Murray • This mid-sized city has fiber-optic conduit laid under almost two-thirds of its 12-square-mile span. Jim Brass, an eight-year Murray city councilman, is among city leaders with mixed feelings about UTOPIA, though the city is a part of the second round of network debt. "I recognize the fact that we're going to pay this bill regardless,'' Brass said. "My big concern is how big is that bill going to get?"
Midvale • City Manager Kane Loader also is chairman of UTOPIA's board of directors. He laments that relatively few Midvale residents have signed on to UTOPIA, but credits it with attracting major businesses such as FLSmidth Minerals to the community. "Many refer to me as the captain of the Titanic. I don't think I am," Loader told lawmakers in August. "I'm the captain of the Starship Enterprise, boldly going where others have not gone before."
Lindon • This Utah County city's relatively high UTOPIA subscriber rate is attributable to large numbers of residents wanting access for their home-run Internet businesses, which account for at least half of Lindon's 850 business licenses, City Manager Ott Dameron said. A recent UTOPIA marketing campaign pushed subscription rates from 31 percent in early 2012 to about 45 percent or higher today, Dameron estimated.
Payson • In spite of promising subscription rates among residents and a belief in UTOPIA's value to the community, the Payson City Council chose not to back the newest round of borrowing. "It just came down to budget,'' City Manager David Tuckett said. "We didn't have the money."
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