Can you continue to create UTOPIA in Utah?
Some city leaders believe it is possible, while others claim it is a highly expensive pipe dream.
To that end, a statewide taxpayers group is leading a renewed charge to stop the latest additional funding efforts for UTOPIA, the municipal telecommunication network with 16 city members.
The Utah Taxpayers Association, which created a separate website called "Stop Utopia," this week e-mailed supporters asking that they protest at upcoming meetings any additional support for the fledgling telecom.
"The taxpayer association is urging citizens to tell elected leaders that spending more money on a failed telecom network is not a good investment, throwing good money after bad," said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the association.
The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency is an eight-year-old venture, with five city members in the Top of Utah, created to build and operate a fiber optic telecom network in member communities.
Nine of the member cities have scheduled meetings this month to decide whether to support $62 million more in bond money requested by UTOPIA to help build out the network.
UTOPIA leaders say approving the additional bond money, to which the cities would have to commit, is an essential step.
"The only way the cities can get out of the original debt is to bring in more funding, to build the network and add more subscribers to eventually work our way out of this thing," said UTOPIA Board Chairman Kane Loader, of Midvale.
To facilitate this, the sponsoring cities would create a new organization, the Utah Infrastructure Agency, to issue new debt. It would not be burdened with the system's existing debt and perhaps would turn around slow growth.
UTOPIA leaders believe they are creating the next step in communication technology, offering member cities the ability to have control of their own high-speed Internet connection as the fiber pathway, the infrastructure, is built.
The UTOPIA member cities are Brigham City, Cedar City, Cedar Hills, Centerville, Layton, Lindon, Midvale, Murray, Orem, Payson, Perry, Riverton, Tremonton, Vineyard, Washington and West Valley City.
In the Top of Utah, Centerville and Layton both have scheduled council meetings in October to discuss pledging their additional support.
The taxpayer group doesn't call for UTOPIA to shut its doors, but believes years of red ink need to stop.
"We don't have expertise on whether or not this can be saved. But we do know that spending more taxpayer dollars is not the solution," said Van Tassell, whose group describes itself as a taxpayer's watchdog.
UTOPIA partners have already committed to retire $185 million in bond payments for the long-term life of the project.
So far, only 10,000 customers are served by the network in its first phase.
Yet, UTOPIA argues its bandwidth will eventually make advancing new technologies more feasible through high-speed connections.
Some of those technologies include telemedicine, distance education, real-time video conferencing, telecommuting, remote data storage and retrieval, and whole home automation.
Loader, who admits "miscalculations" were made in the early years of UTOPIA, said its latest five-year growth plan calls for adding 19,000 subscribers, a projection he believes is feasible and supported by a new study.
"We are hearing from cities about the need for broadband and connectability. We are trying to answer that need." said Loader, who points out that the plan aims at a greater buy-in from areas before the network is extended.
The taxpayers group also has a Facebook page promoting the effort to dry up the funding, even as UTOPIA continues to work to break new ground for its fiber future.