I Wouldnít Join a Statewide Fiber Consortium That Would Have Someone Like Me as a Member

I had the privilege yesterday of testifying before the Utah State Legislature’s interim subcommittee on Government Competition and Privatization. The subcommittee, which is doing some large scale fact-finding on privatization issues (Reason’s Geoff Segal took a turn at a session earlier this year), devoted the morning to looking at municipal broadband, particularly Utah’s two highly visible projects, UTOPIA and iProvo. UTOPIA, short for Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, is an organization made up of 14 member cities who have agreed to support a statewide fiber optic backbone that sells wholesale bandwidth to commercial service providers, cable and Internet access companies, large end-users and real estate developers. UTOPIA’s recent agreements with the final group have touched off questions, especially since in pursuit of them UTOPIA has stepped up recruitment of “non-pledging” members. “Non-pledging” members agree to allow UTOPIA’s network to connect into local facilities, but they do not have to commit sales tax revenues to the project if it needs extra money. As the price for not pledging sales taxes, UTOPIA officials explained, the consortium will not extend its fiber backbone to points all over town. UTOPIA parses this condition as if the town were sacrificing something. Aside from conjuring a variation on a famous Groucho Marx quote, suggested by the title above, this “non-pledging” member category is incredibly self-serving.