Utah Lawmaker Apparently Tired Of Residents Having Fast, Competitive Internet Access, Proposes Law To Stop Expansion

Municipal fiber networks might just be the wave of the future when it comes to speedy internet access. The cable companies already providing internet access, though, aren’t always so keen on the competition–and those companies have deep pockets and access to lawmakers’ ears. And so now Utah becomes the latest state to try legislative measures to bar its cities, towns, and counties from diving into the ISP market.

Utah’s got a bill in its state legislature right now that would prevent local entities from building more fiber networks, Ars Technica reports.

This particular bill isn’t aimed at kicking Provo’s Google Fiber network in the teeth as much as other states’ proposed bills have been. Instead, it’s got a broader aim.

Utah has an organization called UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, which is a group of 16 cities that together operate a fiber broadband network. The bill’s language pretty clearly targets the UTOPIA consortium and any future similar projects that might try to arise.

UTOPIA is an open access network, Ars explains, that allows private ISPs to sell access over its fiber communications. The 11 member cities and towns that already have access would be unaffected, and contracts already in place would be grandfathered in and allowed to continue if the bill became law. But the law, as currently written, would harm UTOPIA’s ability to expand, to build new partnerships, and to defray or contain costs.

The bill explicitly prohibits “interlocal entities” from building fiber optic infrastructure or providing “telecommunication service” outside of their own borders. Member cities and towns can continue to build connections within their own borders and to each other, but not to serve other locations. So if a housing development were built 50 yards past the city limits, tough cookies: no fiber for you.

Similarly, if Town A and Town C were members of UTOPIA but Town B in between them was not, Town B would not be permitted to buy access to the fiber network. The bill would allow UTOPIA to admit new member cities, who would then be permitted to build connections to the network, but UTOPIA legislative policy director Gary Crane told Ars Technica that getting cities to join can be a tough pitch, where selling access is easier and allows the consortium to recoup costs.

Municipal fiber may be the best route to fast connections and true competition. In Utah, it’s working: the presence of competition–from both UTOPIA and Google Fiber–has been forcing existing providers (coughComcastcough) to drop their rates:

Established providers have been forced to lower prices in areas where UTOPIA offers services, and in Provo where Google Fiber is building a network, Crane said.

Crane lives in a part of Layton that isn’t served by UTOPIA yet and pays Comcast $242 a month for an Internet, TV, and phone package with speeds of less than 10Mbps, he said. In Provo, Comcast is reportedly offering a $120 triple-play package with 105Mbps download speeds.

Municipal fiber is making a slow march across the nation, but it’s definitely an uphill battle. Cities like Seattle have run into trouble with their partner companies or faced pressure from cable companies to drop their plans altogether.

Still, there’s hope. A fiber-targeting bill in Georgia failed last year, and Kansas is supposedly tweaking the language in their own recently proposed anti-fiber law. The Utah bill, currently holding in committee, isn’t state law yet. Maybe, as in Georgia, it won’t ever be.

Utah bill would stop regional fiber networks from expanding [Ars Technica]

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