SALT LAKE CITY — A potential partnership between Utah's fiber-optic network UTOPIA and an international investor could lead to the completion of the project and take the burden of future debt off of local government.
UTOPIA and Australia-based Macquarie Capital are conducting a feasibility analysis to look at engineering costs and determine if they will enter into a long-term partnership. If they decide to form the partnership, Macquarie Capital would finish building the network and control its operations and maintenance.
“We’re really excited about the prospect of working with Macquarie,” said UTOPIA chairman Wayne Pyle. “I think bringing a private partner to the table that has the level of capitalization and ability to bring capital to the table that they have, potentially, once we do the analysis, (will) bring all kinds of advantage and speed to building out the network.”
Macquarie Capital invests in public infrastructure projects that range from telecommunications to roads in 28 countries. The feasibility analysis to help determine if the public-private partnership will be formed will be completed in the next three or four months. If the partnership is finalized, the lease to Macquarie Capital would last 30 years.
Under the partnership, the 11 cities who were originally part of the UTOPIA project would be given the choice to opt in or out of the deal to finish building out the network. Of 153,000 potential connections, only 20,000 have been connected. Completing the network would make it more than seven times as large as it is now.
The partnership would allow UTOPIA to continue as a open-access network, meaning other internet service providers can pay to use the infrastructure UTOPIA provides to run their own operations. An example of a closed-network is Google Fiber in Provo, where Google built the fiber network and only Google can use it.
Currently, companies like Veracity Networks pay to operate on the UTOPIA network in places where it has been completed. Pyle believes extending the network will make it more appealing to larger companies.
“That’s one of the things that as we have created and built the UTOPIA network we really wanted to make sure of, was the open nature of that network is maintained to encourage as many service providers as possible to use it,” he said.
The ability to have fiber optic connection in every home and business could positively affect every aspect of life, Pyle said.
“The obvious things you think about are entertainment and those sorts of things… things you currently use the internet for, but in a lot more efficient, effective and fast manner. But, it goes way beyond that," he said.
Pyle predicted a completely connected network would enable residents to have better access to new online healthcare technology and education resources.
The UTOPIA project was started 11 years ago and has struggled with debt and planning issues. The network remains uncompleted in most participating cities.