Utah: A fiber Utopia

Utah's fiber build-out mixes optimism with idealism.

Tech Culture

The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, or Utopia, has begun construction to lace homes in 14 cities with fiber optic lines. Speeds will begin at a minimum of 100mbps downstream and upstream.

Paul Morris, Utopia's executive director, compared the infrastructure development to a municipally funded airport. Cities pay for the airport's construction, private airlines lease space and fly the planes. Utopia will raise funds through government bonds and hire private companies for all of the network's construction and maintenance.

The local Baby Bell, Qwest Communications International, had blocked Utopia from reaching Salt Lake City. Other local-phone giants have lobbied aggressively for state legislators to introduce laws barring municipalities from building their own fiber or broadband wireless networks. As part of their public relations campaign, the Bells have consistently sounded off against government-funded competition, while playing up fears that networks going belly-up would mean higher taxes for residents.

Utopia is treading a fine line. Morris said he doesn't consider Qwest or cable juggernaut Comcast as enemies, but rather potential partners who could use its fiber network.

"What upsets the incumbents is when you do a retail play like for water or power," Morris said during his presentation at FastNet Futures, a sister conference at Voice on the Net in San Jose, Calif. "If you do that with telecoms, it upsets people because it's another monopoly. But if you think of the airports analogy, I think that plays better."

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