WEST POINT — The new UTOPIA Fiber network in West Point, meant to augment high-speed internet access in the city, is complete, as other cities across the area debate the future of broadband connectivity in their locales.
The new $7.2 million network in the Davis County city took 15 months to build and West Point becomes the 15th Utah city with residential service from UTOPIA. Inside Davis County, it joins Centerville and Layton, which also have UTOPIA networks, and Clearfield, which is getting one.
“Strong demand from West Point residents who are working and learning remotely has fueled the high take rates, which are months ahead of projections,” Kimberly McKinley, UTOPIA’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Indeed, UTOPIA said in a statement that the pandemic and resulting spike in internet use for school, work and more has fueled “significant interest” among other locales in getting UTOPIA systems. Officials in North Ogden and South Ogden in Weber County recently heard pitches from UTOPIA reps about getting fiber networks and 20 cities in all are newly interested in potentially partnering with UTOPIA. “City leaders throughout the state are hearing from their constituents who are demanding better connectivity,” said Roger Timmerman, the UTOPIA executive director.
Officials in Kaysville, meantime, are mulling the future of internet accessibility there. A city proposal to bond to build a $22 million network there narrowly failed at the ballot box last month by a 50.8%-49.2% margin and now officials are considering what comes next.
“We’re kind of trying to let things lay so people can emotionally get past the election,” said Andre Lortz, a member of the Kaysville City Council who backed the bond question.
Whatever the case, outside entities mindful of the strong interest for fiber as conveyed by the vote have since reached out to Kaysville leaders, expressing interest in expanding fiber accessibility in the locale, Lortz said. As such, he said the City Council is planning to invite the existing providers to a meeting of the body in February to discuss accessibility and possible next steps.
Indeed, Mayor Katie Witt, also a proponent of the bond question that failed, is interested in what the private sector may have to offer. “If they have a plan, we’re listening,” she said.
In Lortz’s estimation, Kaysville doesn’t have enough internet options — some parts of the city are served by only one company — and the quality can be spotty. Slow upload speeds, he said, are a particular problem.
The existing providers in Kaysville are Comcast, which provides internet service via cable, and Century Link, which provides service via copper cable and some fiber, according to Lortz. UTOPIA serves some business clients in Kaysville.
‘ASTONISHINGLY FAST’UTOPIA, a community-owned fiber-optic network operator based in Murray, installs fiber systems in partner cities and then private providers tap into the open-access networks to in turn provide service to customers. It uses fees paid by internet clients to cover costs of installing its systems, though partner cities agree to help cover bond costs if the subscriber base isn’t large enough. Boosters say UTOPIA can provide higher-speed internet connectivity at rates competitive with other providers.
Another selling point for UTOPIA is the expansiveness of the networks it installs, to all corners of partner cities, not just higher-scale neighborhoods where residents may be more apt to tap into its services.
In the case of West Point, McKinley said customers there have been signing up “astonishingly fast,” enough so that the client base will be big enough to generate the funds necessary to cover bonding costs without tapping city resources. Services in West Point, provided by 13 firms, will start out at $65 per month, with internet speeds ranging up to 10 gigabits per second for residential customers and 100 Gbps for business customers.
UTOPIA announced completion of its fiber network in Layton last March.
The new UTOPIA network in Clearfield, three times larger than the West Point system, should be done by summer 2022.