Comcast reps tout firm’s Utah investments as broadband debate simmers
As numerous cities in Weber County and beyond debate the future of broadband accessibility, Utah reps from Comcast, one of the top U.S. broadband providers, say the firm is up to the task of keeping pace with demand.
“If you look at what speeds and what we can offer from a reliability perspective, our network is always on. It’s monitored 24/7. We respond when issues do arise,” said Bryan Thomas, vice president of engineering for Comcast in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Some leaders around Weber County have increasingly voiced concern about limited internet service offerings, but Comcast, he said, “already bridges these gaps in these areas.”
Over the last three years, Comcast has invested $390 million in technology and infrastructure in Utah, extending its network to 70,000 additional Utah homes. In Weber County, the firm, which offers internet through Xfinity, one of its subsidiaries, spent around $1.2 million to extend its network to around 400 homes in the Uintah Highlands area, a project completed about a month ago.
Deneiva Knight, external affairs director for Comcast in Utah, said she can’t speak to the issues some Weber County leaders have broached about internet accessibility. The issue seemed to emerge late last year in some locales as a particular point of concern as more and more people turned to broadband to communicate with the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic and calls to limit physical contact with others.
“What we can say is that we definitely have been proactive in our outreach to cities and to communities to help identify if there are any service gap issues,” said Knight, speaking Wednesday with the Standard-Examiner, along with Thomas. “We’re here to partner, to help build out these service gap areas.”
Officials from West Haven are seeking proposals from outside operators to build a broadband network in the city to augment internet offerings. Reps from UTOPIA Fiber, meantime, have met with officials from West Haven, North Ogden, South Ogden and Washington Terrace since last November to discuss the possibility of building new broadband networks in the cities. UTOPIA is a community-owned firm that manages fiber-optic networks serving numerous Utah locales, including Layton, West Point and Clearfield, among many others.
Aside from Xfinity, one of the other incumbent internet providers in Weber County is CenturyLink. Though reps from UTOPIA have met with officials from many Weber County cities, it doesn’t have any built-out networks in the county.
’A COMMUNITY PARTNER'Despite a seeming undercurrent of discontent about broadband availability in Weber County, Knight and Thomas emphasized Comcast’s focus on keeping tabs on the needs and issues in individual locales. The firm also keeps tabs on new housing developments so its network keeps pace with growth.
“We always want to make sure we’re in these new developments and we partner with the developers,” Thomas said.
Aside from the recent expansion in the Uintah Highlands area, Knight said “a couple other” initiatives are in the works, though she didn’t get into details. “We’re definitely a community partner and we’re definitely willing to work with communities and work with cities to help make sure that everybody is connected in our service footprint,” she said.
Knight also touted what she said is Comcast’s track record. The firm managed as more and more people connected to the internet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, proving that its network is reliable, she said. “You have to continually invest in it and we’re continuing to invest millions of dollars into our network just in Utah alone to make sure we stay on top of customers’ demands and needs,” she said.
When UTOPIA partners with a city, the entity will bond for the funds necessary to build a fiber system and oversee its installation. Then, customers will contract with private providers that tap into the network for internet service, helping cover bond costs with a portion of the fees they pay. Cities getting systems will typically back the bonds if needed, though subscriber revenue has been sufficient to cover the costs in UTOPIA cities since 2009.
Alluding to the potential of having to tap bond funds to build municipal broadband networks, Knight defended the private-sector model of Comcast. “There are just so many other areas that this funding can go to instead of duplicating a system that’s already there,” she said.
Through the end of 2020, Comcast was the top provider of broadband services across the country gauging by customer count, with 30.6 million subscribers, according to Leichtman Research Group, which tracks the broadband industry. Next was Charter Communications with 28.9 million subscribers.