Thursday, August 21, 2008

Answers - Question 3

3) What are your feelings about the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, better known as UTOPIA? What about other similar entities?

Republican - Dan Liljenquist:
UTOPIA is the perfect battle ground to debate the first two questions posed. I have spent much of the last month studying the issues surrounding UTOPIA. The intent of UTOPIA is to facilitate economic development by providing world class broadband infrastructure to third party service providers, enabling them to provide affordable broadband services to citizens of the 16 participant cities.

In my opinion, one of the primary roles of government is to facilitate free markets. Investments in infrastructure, whether they be highways, power grids, rail-roads, sewer systems, or telecommunications platforms, are appropriate for governments to make in behalf of their citizens. The benefits of infrastructure investments, on the balance, have outweighed the costs of such investments.

In the case of UTOPIA, the 16 cities that banded together on the project made a determination that the existing infrastructure in their cities was inadequate for their citizens. The decision to proceed with UTOPIA, in my opinion, was an appropriate exercise of city authority.

That said, it is clear now that the UTOPIA build-out has been mismanaged, requiring a rework of the business plan and a refinance of the debt instruments required to fund the project. Only time will tell if the revised business plan will work, but, at the very least, there should be useable broadband infrastructure in these cities for many years to come.

On a personal note, I did not think that the investment in UTOPIA was necessary for the 16 cities involved, especially given the rapid advancements in wireless broadband technology. On this basis, I probably would have voted against participating in the UTOPIA project had I been on a city council at the time. Early on, I was also concerned that UTOPIA was intended to compete directly against Qwest and Comcast. I later learned that the UTOPIA network is open to both Qwest and Comcast, but they have chosen not to provide service over the UTOPIA network. Knowing this, I would not have voted against UTOPIA on the grounds that government was in direct competition with private enterprise, even though this was my original inclination.

Democrat - Richard Watson:
What started out as a great idea has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. Unfortunately, UTOPIA is a prime example of under funded programs the legislature has passed over the years.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Watson - The Legislature did not "pass" Utopia.

Richard Watson said...

You are partly correct.
When the Legislature in 2001 passed HB 149, the Utah Municipal Cable Television and Public Telecommunications Services Act where they allowed cities to compete with UTOPIA. UTOPIA is only a wholesale service network provided by municipalities. In turn, commercial providers can use the system to serve residents and businesses. However, Qwest and Comcast do offer retail services and they do compete with UTOPIA. Basically the Legislature gave their "permission" to exist, but with some restrictions.