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West Haven OKs accord to build UTOPIA fiber-optic network in city

By Tim Vandenack - | Jul 27, 2022

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Syracuse and UTOPIA Fiber representatives held a ceremony on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, to launch development of a new broadband network in the city. Ceremonially breaking ground, from left, are UTOPIA Executiver Director Roger Timmerman, Syracuse City Manager Brady Bovero (partially hidden), Syracuse Mayor Mike Gailey, Syracuse City Councilperson Jordan Savage, UTOPIA Chief Marketing Officer Kim McKinley and Bart Jackson of B. Jackson Construction, the firm that'll handle the work.

WEST HAVEN — UTOPIA Fiber, operator of open-access fiber-optic networks in numerous cities across Utah, is most likely on its way to West Haven, expanding the broadband options for city residents.

The West Haven City Council last Wednesday unanimously approved an accord with the Utah Infrastructure Agency, or UIA, to build the $17.6 million network, which would be accessible by all homes and businesses in the city when complete. The UIA is a sister agency to UTOPIA, and UTOPIA officials, who crafted the agreement with West Haven officials, are to formally consider the accord at a meeting on Aug. 8.

“It’s hugely important because we want to be fair to every part of the city,” West Haven Mayor Rob Vanderwood said Tuesday. That is, city leaders want to make sure high-speed internet, currently lacking in some areas, is available in all corners of the city.

Presuming UTOPIA officials OK the agreement, as expected, West Haven would become the first Weber County city to be fully built out with a UTOPIA system. Around 20 Utah cities in all have or are getting UTOPIA networks, including West Point, Clearfield and Syracuse, among others, in Davis County. Officials in other Weber County cities, including North Ogden and South Ogden, have also talked with UTOPIA reps, though they haven’t reached accord for action.

Construction in West Haven would start by the end of 2022 or early 2023, according to Kim McKinley, UTOPIA’s chief marketing officer, and take no more than two years, probably less.

Accessibility to high-speed internet has become an increasing topic of debate in Weber County and beyond as demand grows and critics charge that networks of incumbent operators like Xfinity aren’t extensive enough. West Haven officials had been debating the issue for about a year and a half before taking action last week.

“The pandemic changed how we do business and how we teach our kids, making accessibility to high-speed internet even more important,” Nina Morse, a member of the West Haven City Council, said in a message to the Standard-Examiner. “We have areas of the city where folks can’t access internet at all. This changes that. Now every resident will be able to connect to not just internet, but high speed internet. Definitely a game changer here.”

UTOPIA, owned by the communities with networks, operates open-access systems, which means private telecom firms that actually provide internet tap into its fiber to provide the service to the public. The standard operating procedure calls for bonding to cover network construction costs by UIA, backed by the particular city where the system is going in. Subscriber revenue is tapped to cover bond costs, thus requiring no out-of-pocket costs by cities.

In the case of West Haven, 3,612 subscribers would be needed to create the needed revenue stream to cover bonding costs for the $17.6 million network. Officials think they’ll be able to hit the mark. “I think we’ll be able to hit it early,” Vanderwood said.

West Haven City Manager Matt Jensen echoed that, noting that the network would be available to the commercial sector. He also noted the many apartments and townhomes taking shape in the city — additional potential customers — as well as the rapid growth of late in West Haven, one of Utah’s fastest-growing locales.

West Haven officials polled city residents as part of the process in determining whether to seek a new internet option, with more than 93% of respondents saying they backed the notion of adding broadband. “It was a resounding ‘We need the service,'” Jensen said.

Strata Networks also put forward a proposal for development of a fiber-optic network in West Haven. Under the Strata scheme, West Haven would have owned the network, though the firm would have helped manage it.

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