After several months in the making, the Utah Infrastructure Agency (UIA) has just completed its latest round of funding that will infuse the UTOPIA/UIA network with $52.5 million for the expansion of its network.
That will help legacy cities like Brigham City and Orem reach a built-out stage earlier than expected.
“It is great to be in a position where the revenues of the system can pay for the buildout of the system,” said Steven Downs, Orem’s deputy city manager.
UIA is a sister agency to the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA). Although legally separate entities, UTOPIA and UIA functionally operate as one integrated system and both are marketed as UTOPIA Fiber.
This is the third round of financing UIA has secured recently, attracting $113 million in the last 14 months.
UIA secured the latest round of funding in partnership with Lewis Young Robertson & Burningham, Inc. (financial advisor), KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc. (senior managing underwriter), and Gilmore & Bell (bond and disclosure counsel), according to Kimberly McKinley, chief marketing director.
UTOPIA connectivity has been going on much longer than the pandemic, but the desire for open infrastructure fiber optics is at a high demand as people continue to work and do school from home.
“As we come out of the pandemic you won’t see people automatically changing,” McKinley said. “The demand for fiber optics will be more.”
McKinley said UTOPIA currently has a list of 20 Utah cities that are contemplating the feasibility of putting fiber optics in the ground.
“The pandemic has accelerated the demand for fiber. People realize the importance of having access to high-speed internet in meeting the needs of their personal lives,” Downs said.
“We can’t wait to complete this project. Our residents have waited patiently,” Downs added.
One of the great things, thanks in part to COVID-19, is the fact that UTOPIA/UIA has the revenue stream to get the final funding to complete the original cities’ buildout without having to go back to the cities for more money, according to McKinley.
For many years, naysayers have said comparing fiber optics to, say, electricity is not sound. Now, communities see fiber as a utility and as a necessity, McKinley said.
“The cities who started this so long ago are considered visionary now,” McKinley said.
Since 2011, the majority of UTOPIA Fiber’s growth has come from its synergistic relationship with UIA, designing, financing, building and operating state-of-the-art ultra-high-speed fiber-broadband networks, firmly securing its position as the largest publicly owned Open Access fiber network in the United States.
“What we’re seeing with this latest round of funding is stronger-than-ever demand for high-speed fiber networks,” said Roger Timmerman, UTOPIA Fiber’s executive director, in an email.
“The $52.5 million provides the capital to build out the remaining areas of our original 11 cities and to add customers throughout our coverage area. We continue to have the best partners in the business, who have worked tirelessly to get us to this point,” Timmerman added.
UTOPIA Fiber provides fiber-to-the-home services in 15 cities and business services in 50. It serves as operational partner for Idaho Falls Fiber in Idaho and is in talks with additional municipalities to bring the network to their communities. Other legacy cities include Perry, Tremonton, Centerville and Layton, which saw the installation of its fiber network completed in March 2020.
UTOPIA Fiber is available to 130,000 homes and businesses, offers the fastest internet speeds in the United States (10 Gbps residential and 100 Gbps commercial), and enjoys being ranked as the highest-rated internet option in Utah.
This round of new funding is the largest that UIA has closed on in agency history and the third in the last 14 months. They received $48 million in November 2019 and $13 million in August 2020.
UTOPIA Fiber’s open access model enables communities to have access to a free and open internet without throttling, paid prioritization, or other provider interference. Participating cities can also benefit from various Smart City applications that are enabled by the UTOPIA Fiber network, including early wildfire detection systems, free public WiFi, smart water and energy management, and air pollution monitoring services.
“The pandemic has shown us just how important fast, affordable and reliable broadband service is. We believe publicly owned open access fiber networks are the future of American internet connectivity and are excited to be at the forefront of that movement,” Timmerman said.
The public is invited to visit UTOPIAfiber.com for service maps, build-out timelines, and information on how to sign up for UTOPIA Fiber services.