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Published April 18, 2013 5:15 pm

Buy-out looks good for everyone
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There are some things that government does best, and some things better left to the private sector. The idea that creating a high-speed fiber-optic communications infrastructure is a basic government responsibility, like roads and water systems, was the motivation for such dreams as the multi-city UTOPIA project and the more focused iProvo system in, of course, Provo.

Neither has been anything near the success that its creators envisioned. Super-high capital costs on the one hand, and a dearth of customers eager to pay high prices for a service that most households didn't feel a need for on the other, doomed both projects to years of high debt and little revenue.

While UTOPIA's managers keep promising that salvation — or, at least, profitability — is just around the corner, Provo Mayor John Curtis was coming to terms with the fact that iProvo was not a logical fit for a local government with limited resources and many other responsibilities on its plate.

So on Wednesday, Curtis was more than pleased to announce that an entity with tons of money and a focus on the Internet is set to take iProvo off his hands. Search colossus Google will take over the system, rechristen it Google Fiber, and set out to complete the city's original dream of hitching every house and business in Provo to its fiber-optic star.

Because the large corporation is awash in cash, it can afford to not only build out the iProvo system but also offer high-speed Internet connections for free, with a one-time $30 activation fee, to every home in town. An even faster level of service, costing perhaps $70 a month, will be optional.

Curtis is justly proud of having concluded a deal that allows the city to get out from under much of the cost of iProvo (taxpayers are still on the hook for the $39 million debt that financed the original construction) while still providing the service to the entire city. He knows that such Internet connectivity is crucial for communities that want to be the least bit attractive to modern businesses and residents.

But he also knows that city governments specialize in technologies that do not become obsolete in a few years. Or, as Curtis put it so succinctly in a meeting with The Tribune Editorial Board, "I don't like fast."

Google, of course, thrives on fast. That and doing anything, at almost any cost, that encourages more people to spend more time online, being bombarded by the ads that Google has become filthy rich selling.

UTOPIA, with a much less contiguous customer base and higher debt loads, might not be a good fit for a similar buy-out. Yet.

But, as they might say at Google, things are looking up.




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