UTOPIA is neither gone nor forgotten

March 23rd, 2016


Check out this article from the Daily Herald written by Genelle Pugmire on March 23, 2016.

It has been nearly two years since the Orem City Council rejected a proposal by Macqaurie Capital Group to operate a fiber-optic network for the cities that make up UTOPIA.

To recap what has happened since then, the Daily Herald sat down this week with Orem City Manager Jamie Davidson, who also represents Orem on the UTOPIA Board of Directors.

As a reminder, Macquarie’s presentation and proposed fee schedule for residents of Orem and five other cities would have been approximately $20 a month on residents’ utility bills, whether they had the service or not. Of the 11 cities in UTOPIA, five opted to not continue with a second milestone of the proposal.

The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency is made up of a coalition of 11 cities: West Valley City, Layton, Midvale, Brigham City, Perry, Tremonton, Centerville, Lindon, Murray, Orem and Payson. It is a community-owned fiber-optic network. Fiber optics utilizes light to transfer information, making it the fastest communication and data transfer technology in use today.

The UTOPIA board is made up of members representing each city, however, the greater the city population the more votes on the board.

Over the past several months, a lot of discussion, politics and waiting for UTOPIA service to come to more Orem neighborhoods have occurred. At the same time, UTOPIA is seeing a period of growth.

“We saw limited new construction over the past year,” Davidson said. “But our customer base grew. We’ve added 340 new customers.”

Along with the still remaining payments of $3 million a year until 2040, including a 2 percent increase each year, there are also monthly contributions used for operational purposes to the tune of $294,000.

Orem opted not to pay those operational fees. Now, because UTOPIA is breaking even and faring better, those fees are not even needed, Davidson said.

When those back fees are paid the majority of the funds will be rolled back to Orem to help with infrastructure, rather than going to another city in UTOPIA.

As for whether people still want UTOPIA, Davidson said the answer is absolutely yes.

“We have approximately 40 percent of the city that have access to it,” Davidson said. “Residents who don’t have it keep calling us wanting to know when they will.

“Historically, fiber and access to Internet has been seen by some as a luxury. Now it’s a necessity.”

He said the city gets more calls when the Internet goes out then when the electricity does.

Davidson summarized where Orem is with UTOPIA and the positives that have happened:

— The organization has new leadership.

— The network continues to grow.

— The demand for service is increasing.

— Still to be determined is how to pay for full construction (build-out for the whole city).

Since 2008 the city has had to look at ways of making the UTOPIA costs work. It has been at the top of the priority list and is now a line item on the yearly budgets.

“The trend is positive with new subscribers,” Davidson said. “UTOPIA cities now have consensus opinion and we’re moving forward without Macquarie.

“We’re getting smarter in the way we’re building and using our resources.”