April 1, 2011

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Fiber Added

UTOPIA Digging Roots in Local Communities

Marie Mischel

April 1, 2011

When Alexander’s Print Advantage exceeded its available internet bandwidth, Daniel Mortimer did what any competent CTO would do: he compared the services available before deciding to go with the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, better known as UTOPIA. “With wireless, we found just too many uptime issues,” Mortimer says, adding that the copper wire and coaxial cable providers were extremely expensive. Alexander’s Print Advantage also had unique needs. The company wanted a solid upstream because it was going to host its own website and file transmission site. The downstream was important as well because of the extremely large files that needed to be sent to customers. “It didn’t make sense for us to look at co-location because ultimately those files needed to be at the same place our presses are, so it had to be bandwidth into our building,” Mortimer says. “The only thing that gave us that kind of stability and bandwidth without costing us thousands and thousands of dollars each month was UTOPIA.” Through UTOPIA’s busi-ness plan, Alexander’s Print Advantage has 20 Mbps, but, Mortimer says, “I can make a phone call and triple or quadruple our bandwidth overnight if we need it, and that’s significant.” Dedicated Connectivity UTOPIA was formed in 2002 by 16 cities in the Beehive State, including Brigham City, Orem and West Valley City. The fiber optic, open access network is built and operated by UTOPIA, but 14 private providers offer telephone, television and internet services. The latest service provider to join the network was PAETEC; others include iWire Communications, Xmission and Integra Telecom. UTOPIA has almost 10,000 customers, of which about 500 are businesses, says Elizabeth Vincent, UTOPIA spokesperson. “UTOPIA benefits business owners because the investment they make to bring fiber to their property allows them, their tenants and future tenants to purchase services from multiple providers,” Vincent says. “Each of these providers fills a specific niche at a variety of price points. If a business owner finds that the provider they chose does not provide them the service or product they need, the investment in fiber is not lost. They can simply select another provider.” Prices for dedicated connectivity, which allows the full capacity of a connection to be available at all times because it’s not shared among several customers, begin at $80 per month for 10 Mbps and continue up to 10 GB. UTOPIA providers offer private network services such as VoiP, hosted exchange, security, SIP phone services and offsite data backup, which remain on the UTOPIA network and don’t hit the public internet, Vincent says. “The benefits of private network services include increased speed, security, dependability, quality of service, and allows our providers to offer service level agreements that can’t be offered by traditional ‘cloud’ or ‘hosted’ providers that depend on the public internet to provide service.” Companies of all sizes use UTOPIA, Vincent says. “Phone services from our providers range from companies with over 500 handsets to companies with one handset; UTOPIA currently has clients purchasing multiple 10 GB data circuits.” UTOPIA installs dedicated fibers into each building, which guarantees delivery of exactly what the client purchases, Vincent says. “Contract lengths are negotiated between the business and the provider of their choice, not with UTOPIA.” Critical Infrastructure The cities that pay for UTOPIA have come under pressure because of the financial obligation—the municipalities are liable for $500 million in bonds over the next 30 years if the system doesn’t pay for itself. While losses have decreased significantly over the past three years, they are continuing. UTOPIA has about 10,000 customers; it needs 15,000 to break even. Officials in the cities that form UTOPIA knew it would take several years to build the network, Vincent says. “These cities view fiber-optic capability as critical infrastructure,” she says. There are signs of confidence in the venture’s eventual success. Last August, UTOPIA was awarded $16 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to connect schools, libraries, healthcare providers, public safety entities, government agencies and other community institutions in eight cities. And the Orem city council recently authorized payment of about $62 million to expand the network in the city, not only for businesses but also for residents. This year, UTOPIA has introduced a new business model. “It’s a true utility model that lets us run UTOPIA like any utility that a city runs,” billing the end user for the service, says Kane Loader, UTOPIA board chair and Midvale city manager. Funding for this new model was expected to be received by the end of March so UTOPIA could begin new advertising campaigns touting the advantages of the fiber-optic network, according to Loader. For Midvale, UTOPIA has proved to be a boon rather than a bane, bringing in the international company FLSmidth to the Bingham Junction light industrial park. “That’s the main reason that Midvale got involved with UTOPIA in the first place—to bring in broadband to develop that whole project,” Loader explains. “To get that type of business we were going to have something over and above what was being offered in broadband. That was very important to be able to offer businesses down there.” The School Improvement Network, which also moved to Midvale in the last two years, also depends on UTOPIA. “I’ve had indications from a couple of engineering firms that, without the capability they have through UTOPIA, they would not be able to do their current business. It’s becoming that important to many businesses,” Loader says. “UTOPIA gives us a leg up on other competing cities for these types of businesses. We’re excited to have UTOPIA in the city. It’s doing what we wanted it to do, and that’s attract these types of businesses.”
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