Qwest Promises Salt Lake High-speed DSL -- if Utopia is Rejected

Qwest Promises Salt Lake High-speed DSL -- if Utopia is Rejected

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Qwest has promised it will make speedy DSL lines available to 90 percent of Salt Lake City's residents by the end of the year -- if the city does not join the Utopia fiber-optic network project.

The city also would have to relax some of its conditional-use processes.

"We are ready to make a substantial investment in Salt Lake City," said Qwest's president for Utah, Jerry Fenn.

Qwest currently is able to provide DSL service to about 60 percent of the homes in city.

Fenn's comments came Tuesday during the city's final public hearing on Utopia, which would provide high-speed fiber optic lines to its member cities.

Qwest's DSL would be fast. Utopia's fiber lines would be much faster.

The council will vote next Tuesday on whether to join Utopia.

Mayor Rocky Anderson last year urged the city join Utopia, but now recommends against it, saying he is not sure taxpayer money should be put at risk for the project.

The proposal before the council is whether to set aside $4.1 million in tax revenue annually for 17 years to help Utopia get a lower interest rate on bonds that must be issued before construction can begin.

Several City Council members also voiced concerns about the financial risk, but others said the network could bring new businesses to the city.

In another development, the Roy City Council voted Tuesday night to stay with Utopia but not provide requested financial backing.

Councilman Larry Peterson was not at the meeting, the vote was split 2-2 with Mayor Roger Burnett breaking the tie and voting for Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency.

"We have nothing to lose by staying with Utopia; we have nothing to gain by getting out," he said.

Council members Marge Becraft and Dan Tanner voted for the project. Councilmen Dave Tafoya and Tommy Smith voted against it.

Supporters say that even if Salt lake City rejects the fiber network, Utopia is still feasible.

Brigham City, Centerville, Layton, Lindon, Midvale, Murray, Orem, Perry, Tremonton and West Valley have approved resolutions to provide financial support to the project.

Roy joined Taylorsville and Cedar City in voting to stay with the project but provide no financial backing. South Jordan pulled out completely.

Arthur Brady, with the advocacy group Utahns for Telecom Choices, said the 10 committed cities have a combined 130,000 households, about 30,000 over the number believed needed to break even.

Of those 130,000, if three in 10 households take one or more services, by the seventh year, the project will pay for itself, he said.

A feasibility study conducted by Utopia consultant Dynamic City and verified by Virginia-based Dean & Co. found that Utopia could expect an approximate 40 percent take rate.

Brady said Provo's pilot signed up 72 percent during the first three months of free service. The rate dropped to 66 percent participation after the city started charging.

Pending bond approvals, construction on the $500 million project is set to begin in early summer.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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