Copyright 2004 The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)
March 3, 2004, Wednesday
Supporters of UTOPIA are wowed by the possibility of the high-speed fiber-optic network boosting economic development and quality of life in Salt Lake City.
Opponents — including a sizable number of Qwest employees who could lose their jobs if UTOPIA is built — see a risky venture that could hamper development if better technology comes along.
Both views were aired Tuesday at a public hearing, as Salt Lake City council members weigh whether the city should join other cities to help guarantee the payment of bonds to build the infrastructure. UTOPIA would deliver the fiber-optic network to the boundary of every property in the member cities.
Initially, residents could purchase video, telephone and Internet access for around $100 a month, according to one report. Services in the future could include high-definition video, video-on-demand, telemedicine, interactive distance learning and telework.
If the city agrees to back the bonds to build UTOPIA, and if not enough residents sign up for the service, Salt Lake City would have to guarantee to pay $4.1 million a year for 17 years. If the bond were paid through a property tax increase, owners of a $175,000 home would pay an additional $31 a year.
Scott Beck, manager of the Marriott Hotel at the Gallivan Center, said UTOPIA would be attractive to his guests. “People are looking for better and faster ways to communicate with their business.”
Other supporters noted that UTOPIA could bring services to residents who now don’t have access to high-speed Internet.
Some of the backing for UTOPIA arises out of frustration with Qwest, which provides fiber-optic connections to businesses and would initially compete with UTOPIA. AT&T was chosen to be the sole provider of services on UTOPIA for the first nine months.
Qwest has said it would terminate “many employees” if UTOPIA’s vision is realized. Some of those employees spoke Tuesday.
“Please don’t put the taxpayers of Salt Lake City at risk,” said Sam Oliver, who noted that the technology could become obsolete.
Other opponents worried residents won’t buy the services, and the city would be stuck with the bill.
The council has not scheduled a vote.