layton says UTOPIA fiber network shedding stigma

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

LAYTON — Confident the beleaguered UTOPIA is turning the corner, city officials are offering a free sample of the new fiber-to-the-home network to Wi-Fi users.City Manager Alex Jensen said the city will expand its high-speed wireless signal, now available only at city hall, to buildings and parks surrounding the municipal complex.

The city’s wireless network is powered by a UTOPIA signal and does not have a logon to access.

Jensen said expanding the wireless signal will cost the city approximately $16,000 to put in place. It means patrons at a city museum or Surf N Swim and adjacent parks will now be able to access the UTOPIA-powered signal in the near future.

“It will give people a taste,” Jensen said of the high speeds provided by the fiber network. In sharing the tidbit about expanding the Wi-Fi network Thursday during a work session, the discussion then centered on the community network for almost 30 minutes.

Jensen and other city officials are talking much more confidently about the group’s future these days. Jensen, who chaired the board at one time, said the presence of Google’s new facility in Utah has made a big difference in recent trends for UTOPIA, or Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency. He said Google executives have touted the benefits of fiber and say it is something all communities should have and offer.

UTOPIA is a group of nine communities that formed an organization to help fund a fiber infrastructure. Participating communities include Layton, Centerville, Tremonton, Brigham City and Perry. Since its inception the group has been beset with financial struggles in trying to make the model work.

Work crews have installed some UTOPIA fiber in Layton but the signal is only available in a few commercial areas at this point.

Councilman Jory Francis, a candidate for mayor, said he has heard a change in attitude from some residents about the city’s involvement in the network while campaigning in the community.

“There used to a throwaway kind of mentality. Now I’m hearing more of, let’s fix it, and an exciting attitude,” Francis said of the city’s involvement.Councilman Barry Flitton echoed a similar sentiment.

“Most of the calls and emails I get now about UTOPIA are not grumping about it, they’re asking when can we get it? They’re impatient. They want it,” Flitton said.

Momentum for the fiber network may be growing, but the group still faces an uphill financial struggle. Jensen said the group’s move to reach break-even shrinks by about $10,000 a month. He said business sales are going well.

A legislative audit released in 2012 showed UTOPIA with negative assets of $120 million. Bonds for the fiber network are backed by sales tax revenue pledges from participating municipalities.

Pledge amounts are $2.146 million a year for Layton; $427,697 for Centerville; $324,459 for Tremonton; $430,039 for Brigham City; and $104,494 for Perry.

The pledge goes up approximately 2 percent a year over the 25-year lifespan of UTOPIA’s existing bonds, said Blaine Lutz, financial director for Centerville and a participating member of the UTOPIA board.

Layton City Attorney Gary Crane described fiber to the home as the future of telecommunications. He said education will be especially impacted by the new speeds and options of fiber, which transmit a signal at the speed of light.

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