NORTH OGDEN — UTOPIA Fiber is apparently interested in expanding more aggressively into Weber County.
Representatives from the entity made a pitch to the North Ogden City Council for development of a fiber network in the city to augment high-speed internet offerings. Next, they will conduct a survey of residents to get a gauge of potential interest in the idea, same as in South Ogden.
“I’m all for finding out what our residents think,” City Councilperson Ryan Barker said after hearing from the firm last week. He noted that though there are two firms currently offering internet service in North Ogden, a big chunk of the city gets service from only one of them.
The other council members also expressed support for going forward with the survey, to be handled by UTOPIA, which is also planning a similar effort in South Ogden to gauge interest there. That’s a long way from actually building a new network here, though.
UTOPIA had asked to be on the North Ogden City Council agenda, City Administrator Jon Call said Monday, and he doesn’t have a gauge of individual council members’ potential interest in the matter. Indeed, he gets the impression that the firm, in seeking permission to address the City Council, is in growth mode. “That’s what it sounds like,” he said.
UTOPIA Fiber Executive Director Roger Timmerman made a presentation about expanding into South Ogden to the city council there in November. And Bob Knight, spokesman for UTOPIA, said North Ogden and South Ogden aren’t alone in mulling the possibilities. “North Ogden is one of 20 cities currently in talks to bring UTOPIA Fiber’s residential, business, Smart City and free public WiFi services to their community,” Knight said in a message to the Standard-Examiner.
UTOPIA is a community-owned fiber-optic network operator serving numerous communities in Utah. It covers Layton and is expanding into West Point and Clearfield in Davis County and Morgan in Morgan County, among many other locales. The firm installs fiber systems in cooperation with individual cities, and then private providers offer internet service using those networks. UTOPIA boosters say the firm augments high-speed internet offerings, serving all corners in the locales where it operates, and that its entrance in a market can serve to lower prices among all providers for consumers.
Internet access is of particular import of late in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased meetings and other activities conducted via online platforms. But Timmerman told the the North Ogden officials that internet options and availability haven’t kept pace with demand.
At any rate, Call didn’t report broad clamoring from the North Ogden public.
“We’ve had some residents complain, but it hasn’t been widespread,” he said. He described the move to allow UTOPIA to move ahead with a survey of the public as “a baby step” in the process.
Timmerman said there are around 7,000 potential internet customers in North Ogden, including households, businesses, churches, schools and other entities. Building a network to serve the city, he estimates, would cost $17.5 million.
UTOPIA’s partner cities don’t provide money upfront to build the networks, which are typically bonded. But per the typical agreements, they have to help cover bond costs if the subscriber pool isn’t large enough to generate funds for bond payments. Since 2009, company reps say UTOPIA’s varied projects, around 10, have all generated large enough subscriber bases to cover bonding costs without having to tap into municipal support.
In North Ogden, Timmerman said the fiber system, if developed, would need a take rate of around 40% of the 7,000 potential customers to generate funding needed to independently cover bond costs. Customers pay $30 in their regular monthly bills to UTOPIA.
That, he thinks, is attainable, and Kimberly McKinley, UTOPIA’s chief marketing officer, estimates the take rate in North Ogden would be 45%-50%. “In your city, we think we would do much better than average,” Timmerman said.
Aside from agreeing to let UTOPIA gauge interest in North Ogden, council members said little more.
City Councilperson Charlotte Ekstrom, among others, noted talk in the city of potentially bonding for a new North Ogden Police Department building, which could bear on the matter. City officials “want to be really cautious about what we do with the city’s resources,” she said at the Dec. 1 meeting on the issue.