Copyright 2004 The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)
April 8, 2004, Thursday
Qwest has a message for Salt Lake City officials considering a controversial high-speed Internet proposal: UTOPIA lost could be broadband paradise gained.
The Denver-based communications giant says if Salt Lake City on Tuesday decides not to back bonds necessary for the $540 million plan to saturate 18 Utah cities with fiber-optic lines, it will speed expansion of its commercial digital subscriber line service to cover 90 percent of Salt Lake City’s homes and businesses.
Jerry Fenn, Qwest’s president for Utah, denied Wednesday that the offer amounted to a “carrot-and-stick” ultimatum. However, he did acknowledge the expansion plan, envisioned as a nine-month effort, would require a more-normal “couple of years” if the city signs on to the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA).
“We’re prepared to make a substantial investment in Salt Lake City,” Fenn said, noting Qwest currently offers DSL to about 60 percent of the city’s homes and businesses. “I have been given the authority to commit additional resources to accelerate our deployment.”
Mayor Rocky Anderson, who earlier this week wrote council members encouraging them to forego using taxpayers’ money to back UTOPIA bonds, readily embraced Qwest’s proposal.
“Expanded access to DSL, in conjunction with the abundant fiber-optic lines available in the downtown area, will make us continue to be extremely competitive in terms of sustainable economic development — without taking the tremendous risk entailed in the UTOPIA proposal,” Anderson said.
The mayor originally supported UTOPIA, but balked when member cities were told they would have to backstop UTOPIA bonds with their own sales tax revenue.
Under the proposal, Salt Lake City is to provide up to $4.1 million a year for the project’s expected 17-year development if UTOPIA is unable to meet its bond obligations.
Qwest’s project, at an undisclosed cost, would involve construction of 41 additional remote DSL terminals. The work would be completed by year’s end, if city officials agree to “streamline the present conditional use permit process,” Fenn said.
Qwest officials plan tentatively to meet next week with city representatives to detail locations for expansion, he said.
Fenn stressed that Qwest is committed to expanding DSL in the city, regardless of council members’ eventual vote on UTOPIA.
Arthur Brady, executive director of the pro-UTOPIA Utahns for Telecom Choices, blasted Qwest and the mayor. “[Anderson] is saying there’s already lots of fiber in or around downtown,” he said. “But what about all the businesses and homes not in or around downtown? And [current fiber-optic] availability does not mean it’s affordable.”
Brady says some members of his group have been quoted connection fees of up to $10,000, and thousands of dollars a month in service charges, to hook onto those existing lines. UTOPIA, meanwhile, has promised much-faster-than-DSL Internet access for prices cheaper than the current commercial broadband rates of around $50 monthly.
As for Qwest’s DSL development proposal, Brady is skeptical. “That promise was delivered by a gentleman who clearly doesn’t get it,” he said. “We would be hard-pressed . . . to find a company with such a record of breaking its promises.”
The council has scheduled an up-or-down vote on UTOPIA for Tuesday.