Bountiful, Utah builds a municipal broadband network

The city of Bountiful, Utah, with a population of around 45,000, plans to begin construction of a new municipal broadband network in August. Bountiful has partnered with Utopia Fiber to install and operate the open-access network.

The city-owned fiber network will provide gigabit speeds to residents and businesses who elect to participate. Participating in Bountiful Fiber is totally voluntary.

The project was temporarily waylaid by a group called the Utah Taxpayers Association, which financed a petition effort to force a vote on project funding. Hired signature gatherers ultimately failed to collect enough signatures from registered voters to advance the opposition campaign.

The municipal network has been three years in the making, including more than 24 public meetings.

To finance the project, Bountiful City will issue about $43 million in revenue bonds. Sales tax will be pledged as security for the bonds to ensure the lowest possible interest rate, but taxpayer dollars will not be used the build or manage the project. Subscriber revenue will cover the cost of the service.

Utopia uses the open access model to promote competition by leasing the network to different internet service providers. And customers can choose the ISP they want.

Networks built by Utopia already provide fiber availability to over 100,000 businesses and residences in over 50 communities in Utah and other Western states.

According to the Bountiful Fiber website, customers who choose the municipal network will receive a direct fiber line to their homes or businesses without having to pay a connection or installation fee. Prices will vary depending on the connection speed and ISP selected by the customer, but the city anticipates monthly residential pricing in the following ranges:

  • 250 Mbps: $70 – $78
  • 1 Gbps: $80 – $90
  • 10 Gbps: $220 – $250

“Bountiful is a unique city,” said Mayor Kendalyn Harris, in a statement. “Our residents started this process. They organized a ‘Fiber for Bountiful’ campaign that led to a thorough consideration of many options. We now look forward to offering a vital service to residents and businesses in an increasingly digital world.”

Opposition to municipal broadband

In a July 9 opinion piece in The Salt Lake Tribune, Gigi Sohn, executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB), called the Utah Taxpayers Association a dark money group because of its lack of transparency.

She wrote, “Two huge cable and broadband companies, Comcast and CenturyLink/Lumen, have been members of UTA and have sponsored the UTA annual conference. They have been vocally opposed to community-owned broadband for decades and are well-known for providing organizations like the UTA with significant financial support.”

After UTA failed to gather enough signatures to stop the Bountiful municipal broadband project, Sohn stated: “The people of Bountiful City have spoken loud and clear: they want the city to work with Utopia Fiber to build a universal, affordable and robust broadband network for all of their residents, and they want that network NOW. The AAPB is proud to have been one of the voices alerting the people of Bountiful City, and the country, about the dirty tricks that seek to undermine local communities' freedom to choose what broadband network works best for its residents."