High-Tech Project Causes Controversy

High-Tech Project Causes Controversy

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John Hollenhorst reporting Eighteen towns and cities in Utah are on the verge of taking a flying leap into the technological future.

But Project Utopia-- their proposal for souped-up video, Internet and phone service-- is causing sparks to fly.

Proponents are asking 18 city councils to provide loan gurantees. They say Project Utopia will reap huge economic benefits AND give homeowners the best in electronic entertainment.

But critics are looking nervously at the price tag: $530 million and counting.

This is one idea of Utopia. A click of the mouse brings full screen videos almost instantly from the Internet.

Paul Morris/ Executive Director, Utopia: "It's much, much faster. It's a higher band width, and that allows for a higher quality."

It's just part of what Project Utopia hopes to send from this control room in Utah County through a fiber-optic network to a quarter million homes and businesses.

With his remote, a homeowner could tune in super-deluxe cable-TV with movies-on-demand.

Paul Morris: "At competitive prices, at or cheaper than what he's getting now."

There would be unlimited channels for community events. And educational programs.

Bill Sederburg/President, Utah Valley State College: "Like teaching and having an interactive capability, as opposed to just watching a tv program and then learning from that."

Medical institutions could trade vast amounts of images and data.

Dr. Wendell Gibby/Riverwoods Medical Center: "You as a patient will get better care, faster treatment."

Businesses could send and recieve enormous amounts of data.

DeWayne Cusick/Konica-Minolta: "You would have the infrastructure that would attract the businesses to be able to come in here."

Why then is a new group called Utopia-Not gearing up to fight it?

John Christensen/UtopiaNot: "You're talking half a billion dollars! Do you know how many low income homes we could build for a half a billion dollars?"

It will cost $2,000 a home to wire the 18 towns.

John Christensen: "Would the communities benefit from it? I think some people would. I don't think the whole community would."

In theory, Utopia will pay for itself. Cable, phone and internet companies will pay millions to use the fiber-optic network.

But the 18 towns would help guarantee Utopia's loans. Critics worry that homeowners in those towns could face higher cable and internet charges AND higher taxes if Utopia fails to make enough money.

John Christensen: "They're going to invest all of this money without asking the taxpayers to vote on it. Who benefits?"

Utopia backers say everyone benefits from a modernized infrastructure.

Dr. Wendell Gibby: "That translates into jobs. It translates into higher tax base. It translates into better education opportunities for our students, and a better living standard for everyone."

Bill Sederburg/Pres., UVSC: "For the small amount of risks they're asked to bear, the benefits are just huge."

Utopia backers have a deal with AT&T to provide exclusive service on the network, at least temporarily.

Critics, meanwhile, are demanding it be put to the voters. And they've asked the Attorney General to investigate.

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