KAYSVILLE — As web access becomes increasingly central in everyday life, Kaysville voters will be weighing in on the future of internet accessibility in the city.
A ballot question facing voters in Kaysville asks whether the city should bond up to $22 million to install a fiber network in the city to bolster access to the internet. Proponents say the new city-owned network would lower the price of internet service by up to 30% and increase users’ options.
Every home in Kaysville would be able to get service via the system, if they wanted, said Andre Lortz, a proponent and a member of the Kaysville City Council. What’s more, the cost would likely be cheaper than what internet customers now have to pay and the service for many would be faster.
Debate on the issue has grown hot at times, and critics say the project is far from a sure thing. They worry about taxpayers having to cover the cost of the system if it doesn’t generate enough users and fear the fiber technology could become obsolete over the term of the bonding, up to 30 years.
“They overplay the likelihood that fiber is the final frontier of internet connectivity technology,” said Josh Sundloff, who helped author the argument against the bond plans included in a flier on the ballot question sent to Kaysville voters.
In the lead up to Nov. 3, when balloting ends, yard signs have been popping up around Kaysville, both for and against the proposal. A group promoting the plans has taken shape called Citizens for Kaysville Fiber and another group has formed in opposition, the Coalition for Responsible Kaysville Fiber. City leaders have been debating the proposal for about two years and, given the price tag, among other things, decided to put it on the ballot to let city voters have final say. Mayor Katie Witt, for one, is a proponent while the Utah Taxpayers Association opposes the plans, arguing, in part, that involvement in such things isn’t the place of government.
Either way, the proposal underscores the omnipresence of the internet in life and the import of being able to get online in everyday life. It also reflects the growing debate over whether broadband networks should be a public utility, like water or, in some cases, electricity service.
As is, the existing private internet service providers in Kaysville don’t extend to all corners of the city, proponents of the new network say. Moreover, speed, reliability and quality of service vary, Lortz said. The new network, by contrast, would enable the same level of service to the whole city — to homes, businesses, schools and other entities.
“We’d make sure everyone had accessibility,” Lortz said. Upload and download speeds would be the same, reflecting an improvement over the options now most commonly available, while prices, in general, would be cheaper, putting downward pressure on private providers’ rates.
Corning would build the network for Kaysville, which already has a municipal power system, giving it an existing network where the new system could be installed. It would be owned by Kaysville, but Connext would manage the system and private internet service providers would actually tap into the network to supply customers with service.
“Over the last 40 years, nothing has proven itself to be faster, safer or more reliable (than fiber),” reads the argument in favor of the Kaysville plans in the flier on the issue that accompanies ballots sent to city residents. The argument that fiber technology may become obsolete, Lortz said, is “a scare tactic.”
Around 3,500 of the 9,500 households in Kaysville would have to sign up for the service for the proposed system to break even, according to Lortz. But proponents’ goal is to get 5,000 to 5,500 customers. Fees users pay would cover the bond costs of the new network, while sales and franchise tax revenue would be tapped if there aren’t enough users.
On the other side, Sundloff notes that more and more internet users are connecting to the web via wireless means, which, to him, points to the possible limited import of fiber in years to come. In light of such uncertainty, it’s “foolhardy” to make such a commitment to fiber. Though the bonds to build the network are to be paid off within 30 years, Lortz said they could be paid off sooner depending on the number of customers who tap into the system, presuming the ballot question is approved.
Foes of the ballot question also argue in the flier accompanying ballots sent to voters that proponents rely on overly rosy estimates. “While well-intended, we believe the proponents of this project are relying on unrealistic optimism for the project’s success while minimizing the impacts of market competition and emerging internet technologies,” their argument reads.
If the bond question is approved, work on the network would start in early 2021 and be done within two years.