The Case for UTOPIA


An editorial in Sunday's Deseret News entitled Leave UTOPIA to the Dreamers took on Utah's UTOPIA project. The editorial basically says:

  • Technology changes too fast.
  • Private industry should build this.

The first is a pretty easy argument to knock down in my opinion. Infrastructural technology doesn't actually change that quickly. Pointing to things like the VCR and its imminent obsolescence by the DVD is apples and oranges.

The second argument bears careful consideration. The easy answer is that private industry isn't actually building it and they're not willing to either, although they talk a good game. Utah is a second or third tier market for capital investment by companies like Qwest and AT&T. Its going to stay that way too.

A more thoughtful argument is that even if private companies were willing to build broadband networks in Utah, is the network they'd build the network that's in the public's best good? I suspect that private firms would be willing to build roads as well and at least in some markets its been proposed. The roads that would get built aren't the ones that we've deemed best suited to meeting societies demands. Imagine if every road were a toll road or if they were only allowed to carry so many goods in certain directions. You could get all the deliveries you want, for example, but couldn't send more than 10 packages a day. There's a good reason that such roads don't exist, but that's exactly the kind of broadband that private companies provide.

The networks the major carriers are building are walled-gardens where they pick the kind of traffic they'll carry and limit deliveries in certain directions. This is significantly different from the networks being proposed by Provo and Utopia. I think that if Utopia can get its funding, we'll see a significant impact on economic development that goes beyond what we'd get even with universal coverage by the private carriers.

Utopia doesn't propose to be a retail carrier, just to build the infrastructure and set some ground rules in favor of openness and competition. For the same reasons that we fund transportation systems with public money, I think its in the public's interest that UTOPIA be allowed to build its network.