Taking a page from today’s policy attack manual, Provo, Utah, officials begin a rebuttal to the recent Reason report criticizing the progress and cost of its iProvo municipal broadband system by pointing out that at some time in my professional past I (“gasp”) did some work for Qwest. Never mind Qwest neither funded nor participated in the report. Never mind that my past work with Qwest amounted to maybe 40 hours of work in 2003 with their Chicago-based PR agency on project to improve its “brand voice.” Never mind that I never even dealt with anyone at Qwest; the project involved editorial mark-up of internal newsletters, press releases and ad copy supplied by the agency. The iProvo authors somehow spin this into a massive conflict of interest by characterizing this one-off project as indicative of “strong-ties” to Qwest. If only Provo’s three years of mounting losses could be wiped away by the none-to-surprising revelation that as an expert in the telecom field, at some point, some time, I gained a paycheck from it. Certainly once we dispense with the ad hominem attacks, the report does little to challenge the fact that iProvo is losing money, nor my conclusion that it will continue to do so. In fact, read it closely and you’ll see it denies very little. It focuses on small points and benefits from having more up-to-date pricing information than I did. But beyond that, it is little more than a list of excuses and rationalizations about why iProvo is losing money, along with some clever spinning of its own, especially on the HomeNet debacle. Certainly the city isn’t confident enough to use the rebuttal to set a definitive date for profitability or positive cash flow. My favorite section begins on page 17: “Losses in 2004 and 2005 were larger than anticipated due to the following reasons” and goes on to list bulleted excuses: Processes took longer to set-up than anticipated, construction began later, transport fees were lower than expected, the retail partner failed, and the customer mix did not meet forecasts.” Dear iProvo: This is the point! It’s not that your intentions were bad, but these are the invariable problems municipalities get into with broadband and why they should stay out. The plan that’s sold to the community usually is overly-optimistic and fails to account for all market factors. Bottom line, iProvo is failing to deliver on its promises. Nothing in their rebuttal suggests they will.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.