Thursday, March 26, 2015

UTOPIA holdout cities should adopt broader view of economic benefit of UTOPIA-Macquarie PPP

Orem, Utah and four other cities that have opted out of a public-private partnership between the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) and Macquarie Capital Group are now grappling with a fundamental question as to how to finance the future operation of fiber to the premise (FTTP) telecommunications infrastructure to serve their residents. The question: support the partnership’s public works approach to the increasingly essential infrastructure or default to legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies and the poor value and customer service and disparate access they typically offer as monopoly providers.

Six of the 11 cities comprising UTOPIA agreed in concept in 2014 to assess a parcel utility fee to help offset the cost and mitigate the business risk associated the pure subscription-based model used by incumbent providers. They mitigate their business risk by cherry picking neighborhoods believed to have the greatest profit potential for their proprietary network investments while redlining those that don’t.

The utility parcel fee is a key sticking point in negotiations between UTOPIA and the five hold out cities including Orem. A Daily Herald dispatch cites from a memorandum to the Orem mayor and council from Orem City Manager Jamie Davidson:

"There is a concern that Orem is unpredictable and not easy to work with," Davidson said. "It's concerning to me to see new options entering the market [UTOPIA] with a stranded investment for the future."

“However, bottom line, the proposal remains a utility fee-based model,” Davidson said. “If, as a council, you cannot wrap your arms around the assessment of a monthly utility fee to all customers (with potentially a few exceptions, for example, the indigent), nothing else matters.”

Davidson’s right. The parcel fee is essential to making the UTOPIA partnership with Macquarie pencil out by mitigating the business risk of relying solely on customer subscription revenues. UTOPIA operates an open access fiber network, enabling competition among ISPs that want to offer customer premises services delivered over the network. In that regard, the UTOPIA network is like a road or other public works project that benefits and enhances the value of the properties it passes. The UTOPIA cities benefit because these properties can support higher levels of economic activity as well as boosting their market value and, by extension, their ad valorem property tax revenue potential to fund other municipal services.

No comments:

Web Analytics