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UTOPIA Creating Controversy

UTOPIA Creating Controversy

Posted - Apr. 5, 2004 at 4:29 p.m.



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Richard Piatt ReportingMost people don't even know what UTOPIA is, but strong feelings continue to grow as more people find out about the high-speed internet program, and about how much taxpayer money is at stake.

The advantage would be a high speed internet connection almost a hundred times faster than what many of us our used to. But you're probably asking who would pay to install such a system? And that's exactly what the fight is about--and it's a tough one.

Most people agree: super high speed internet service, as common as a phone in Utah homes, would be nice. But there are a lot of people strongly opposed to UTOPIA. To them the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrustructure Agency comes at too high a price.

Mike Jerman, Utah Taxpayer Association: "This is something taxpayers should be worried about because private industry is moving in and moving in quickly. And prices are dropping and speeds are increasing."

There is a public forum that’s part of an organized effort to kill UTOPIA. Qwest, and Comcast are both helping lead the effort because they say it's expensive, risky, and not needed.

Jerry Fenn, President, Qwest Utah: "We think government should not be part of competition, especially where there isn't a vaccum. And there isn't a vaccum here."

Eyewitness News toured the Provo-based UTOPIA facility a few weeks ago. To hook up homes in each participating city would cost $540-million, and would involve installing fiber-optic cable to each home. Taxpayers would have to back 40 percent of that debt.

But on the upside, it would offer internet speeds about 100-times the fastest connection now.

Paul Morris, UTOPIA Exec. Director: "This would be the most advanced network in the United States and it would match some of the fastest networks in the world. So we would be a world player."

17 cities were invited to take part. So far, 10 approved the program, South Jordan has rejected it, and three have not agreed to fund it. Salt Lake City is among the three left to vote on UTOPIA. The question is: how big a priority is it?

Claire Geddes, Opposes UTOPIA: "Education is, health care, the war in Iraq. No where have I ever seen anyone saying, ‘I can't get high speed internet.’"

UTOPIA's executive director says the program isn't as risky as opponents say it is. Next week is the deadline for cities to decide on UTOPIA. What happens to the program next will be decided after that.

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