This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Stalled construction of city-sponsored fiber-optic networks in Layton and Centerville in the works since 2007 is now getting a boost from federal stimulus dollars.
In August 2010, Utopia the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency received $16.2 million in Recovery Act funds to help install fiber-optic lines directly to subscribing homes and businesses.
"We're establishing 'middle-mile,' " Utopia Executive Director Todd Marriott said of the rings to be laid around Layton and Centerville. These "freeways" will bring high-speed internet capability to "anchor locations" such as community colleges, public safety centers, hospitals, city halls and Boys and Girls Clubs.
End-users willing to pay the $3,000 connection fee can hook into the rings and have fiber-optic lines installed directly to their homes or businesses. They then choose from various providers and pay monthly charges for the actual service.
The company's Web site, utopianet.org, touts "the fastest network on earth," and Marriott said Utopia now has the capability to transmit high-volume information at blistering speeds of 1 gigabit (a billion bits) per second to homes and businesses.
"We'd love to have it," said Cris Hogan, executive vice president of Hogan & Associates Construction in Centerville. "It's much faster, with more capabilities, and we're hoping less expense."
As a commercial builder, Hogan's company frequently transfers detailed documents and plans to subcontractors electronically. Under current bandwidth conditions, that process can be time consuming, he said.
Hogan's wait for screaming-fast Internet could soon be over.
"No one in Centerville has Utopia right now but they're getting close with the stimulus," said Blaine Lutz, the city's finance director. His workplace, Centerville City Hall, should be hooked up by October.
The idea is to get public facilities hooked up first, Lutz said, and then nearby businesses and homes can attach to the backbone, similar to hooking into a water or sewer line.
A total of 16 Utah cities signed on to Utopia in 2002 with 11 agreeing to finance infrastructure construction through bonds. However, by 2008 the company hit hard times. For starters, customers were not pounding down its doors to purchase the connections.
"We are demand-based now," Marriott said. "In the past, we thought that if we build it, they will come. But we didn't market it well."
Utopia had also been approved for loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Service (RUS), funds intended to reimburse millions of dollars in construction costs.
But the federal agency eventually took the loans back, Marriott said, and the company had to refinance its debt in 2008.
Those fiscal woes left some suffering from buyers' remorse.
"In Centerville we were in the middle of doing the work when RUS pulled the plug," Lutz said. "We're still fighting that battle. The ramifications were huge."
In 2010, Utopia asked cities to begin covering its bond payments and also requested additional help through the Utah Infrastructure Agency (UIA). A total of eight cities joined this new entity to market the service Brigham City, Centerville, Layton, Lindon, Midvale, Murray, Orem and West Valley City.
"Utopia has not broken even yet," Marriott said. "It will be a couple of years before that occurs. We need to build our customer base."
Gary Jones, Utopia's vice president of sales and marketing, affirmed the company's commitment at a recent West Valley City Council work session.
"We believe in the project," Jones said, adding that Utopia is aggressively pursuing companies to sign on to the service.
Layton Mayor Steve Curtis voiced excitement over construction progress and said the stimulus funds will enable fiber optic build-out in the city within two years.
"The hook-ups into our research park are looking very good," Curtis said, "and that in and of itself is an economic driver for us."
$16.2 million for UTOPIA
How much does Davis County get?
$5 million to Layton
$1.1 million to Centerville
Is it creating jobs?
26 "full-time equivalents" since September 2010
55 more FTEs anticipated through December 2012
Pay is $13 to $60 per hour, depending on type of work
How many fiber-optic connections will it provide?
115 "anchor" institutions in Layton, 26 in Centerville, including schools, police and fire stations, libraries, health centers and city halls
Payson, Orem, Midvale, Murray, West Valley City and Perry also benefit. The $16.2 million will fund 395 hookups.
Recipient cities are required to provide a 30 percent match.