WEST HAVEN — West Haven leaders are weighing the possibility of teaming with an outside firm to bring a broadband network to the city.
No decisions have been made, but City Manager Matt Jensen said the city will seek proposals from outside operators about building a network in West Haven to augment internet offerings. It’s a discussion many Weber County cities have been having, but West Haven, at least at this stage, is pushing the discussion further than some of the other locales.
“We’re just kind of trying to get a feel if this is something that would take off and do well in the community,” said West Haven City Councilperson Nina Morse. A solid majority of respondents to a survey of West Haven residents, 93.4% of them, said they would back building a fiber network in the city, if paid for by those who get service from it.
Reps from UTOPIA Fiber discussed possible expansion into West Haven with leaders from the city earlier this year, according to Morse. The company has also met with leaders from North Ogden, South Ogden and Washington Terrace, similarly interested in augmented access to high-speed internet. Citizens have complained of limited internet service offerings, spurring the discussion.
“The residents have given feedback to the city that they’d like a fiber option that’s reliable and affordable,” said Washington Terrace City Manager Tom Hanson. UTOPIA reps met with leaders there to discuss the matter at a June 1 Washington Terrace City Council meeting and officials, at this stage, are weighing their options.
Morse said that though West Haven is growing, its location west of Weber County’s main population cluster has hampered expansion of internet options. Xfinity, part of Comcast Corp., and CenturyLink are among the incumbent operators in Weber County. “We’re still considered a rural community and we just don’t have the options that bigger cities have,” Morse said.
Though UTOPIA Fiber has been the most vocal entity on the matter in Northern Utah, it’s not the only company that can install and manage broadband systems. UTOPIA, based in Murray, is a community-owned fiber-optic network operator serving numerous communities across Utah. It covers Layton and is expanding into West Point and Clearfield in Davis County and Morgan in Morgan County, among many other locales.
There are four or five firms that can install and operate systems, Jensen said. “It’s letting everybody have a chance, weighing out what’s best for our community,” he said.
Broadly, West Haven will seek a proposal from a company interested in installing and managing a fiber network in the city. Internet service providers would use the network to provide actual service to individual customers. “We’re not looking to get into the broadband business,” Jensen said. He’s hoping for proposals by the end of July, when leaders would debate possible next steps.
Per the UTOPIA model, the entity will bond for the funds necessary for a fiber system and oversee its installation. Then, customers will contract with private providers that tap into the network for internet service. A portion of the fees subscribers pay are used to cover bond costs, freeing the city of financial liability. Cities getting systems will typically back the bonds if there aren’t enough subscribers, but UTOPIA officials say subscriber revenue has been sufficient to cover bond costs on all systems it’s built since 2009.
Typically, the basic bill for a client using the UTOPIA system will total around $60 or $65, with $30 of that going to UTOPIA to help cover bond payments for the system installation and the rest going to the internet service provider.
“UTOPIA Fiber has been approached to further expand our open access network in an additional 15 cities throughout Utah. With the highest customer satisfaction scores and the nation’s fastest speeds, we look forward to responding to RFPs issued by interested cities,” UTOPIA spokesman Bob Knight said in an email.
South Ogden City Manager Matt Dixon said the city is still interested in investigating its internet options, but no progress or decisions have been made since UTOPIA reps addressed South Ogden leaders last November. North Ogden leaders heard from UTOPIA reps late last year as well, and though city officials haven’t made any decisions, the city “would like to circle back to that discussion at some point,” said North Ogden City Manager Jon Call.
Hanson in Washington City said the next step there would be surveying residents on possible interest in building a broadband network.