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UTOPIA Moving Forward

February 21st, 2012

By Kane Loader

It’s fair to say that the words “federal stimulus” don’t get much love around these parts. And some people don’t like the sound of “UTOPIA,” either.

But we at UTOPIA – the consortium of cities that is building an open-source fiber-optic network – are happy to report that we’re using the $16 million in stimulus funds we’ve received to buy goods and put people to work bettering our communities by linking some 400 critical institutions like fire stations, schools, traffic signals and utilities.

UTOPIA matched those federal funds with $8 million in local bond proceeds for $24 million stimulus-related investment in fiber-optic infrastructure in six cities – Centerville, Layton, Midvale, Murray, Orem and West Valley City.

What’s more, we’re coordinating with the University of Utah, which received its own $13.4 million stimulus grant, to enhance the statewide Utah Education Network by connecting schools, libraries and Head Start centers. We’re also partnering with the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Transit Authority to further link public facilities.

As a city manager, I can tell you that fiber-optic infrastructure is as important as our roads, water pipes and electric lines. Broadband connections are fast becoming the standard for Internet communications, phone calls, television and a myriad of other uses we can’t even imagine today. Who thought, just a couple of years ago, that we’d be downloading movies on the fly or storing our music library in the “cloud?”

In addition to entertainment benefits, fiber makes it easier for our kids to do research at school, for our traffic signals to talk together so that cars and trucks more more smoothly, for our police and fire agencies to get to the scene of an emergency as quickly as possible and for our businesses to videoconference with counterparts in London and Tokyo as easily as if they were next door.

Fiber is an exciting, “future-proof” technology because its speed and bandwidth are many times that of our older, copper-wire-based (telephone lines) and coaxial (cable television) systems. In addition, businesses, houses and schools directly connected to a fiber-optic line have full use of their bandwidth, rather than having to share it among many users, as with telephone and cable lines.

We’re using the federal grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, together with our cities’ own bond money, to build 251 miles of new fiber lines, extending the existing 120 miles of fiber already in place.

We’re connecting about 400 community sites, including 161 public safety entities (everything from fire stations to individual traffic signals), 39 K-12 schools, one library, 12 institutions of higher learning, 55 health facilities and 104 government buildings, including senior centers, city halls, parks and water and sewer facilities.

In addition, the 13 private companies that compete to provide access to end-users over our open-source network have told us this expansion will allow them to offer services to more than 150,000 households and 31,000 local businesses.

Connecting our public facilities will make our cities run more smoothly and help us serve our citizens more quickly and efficiently. Providing the fastest-possible Internet connections gives residents freedom to do what they want when they want to do it. Our businesses benefit from a significant competitive advantage in tomorrow’s information economy. Access to high-capacity broadband is one of the top criteria businesses look for when deciding to relocate or expand.

Much of America is behind in the worldwide race to build the technological underpinnings of our new information-based economy, but UTOPIA is proud to be playing its part to help some of Utah’s communities stay on the leading edge.

Kane Loader is city manager of Midvale and UTOPIA’s chairman of the board.

This article was posted on The Salt Lake Tribune’s website on February 18, 2012 and can also be found HERE.