UTOPIA continues to weave web of ISPs

  • UTOPIA added three ISPs to its open access network, and it now has 18 residential providers leasing its fiber

  • It now offers a 2.5-gig plan as well as a symmetrical 10 Gbps tier

  • UTOPIA currently serves about 220,000 addresses, an exec said

Open access network operator UTOPIA Fiber is upping its internet options for consumers in Utah, and with that comes two brand-new speed tiers.

UTOPIA on Tuesday announced three new ISPs have joined its network, bringing total number of providers leasing UTOPIA’s fiber to 18. The new ISPs are ETS (based in Layton City, Utah), Fusion Networks (Salem City) and WiFi Pros (Bountiful City).

Through its network of ISPs, UTOPIA said consumers now have access to a new 2.5-gig internet plan (offered by WiFi Pros starting at $68 per month) as well as a 10-gig symmetrical tier for under $150 per month.

The latter plan comes from Sumo Fiber, which is selling the 10-gig tier at $119 per month, plus a $30 infrastructure fee. UTOPIA claims the $149/month price tag “is among the lowest prices in the nation” for symmetrical 10-gig.

While symmetrical 10 Gbps speeds aren’t super widespread right now, a few big-name ISPs have already made their move on that front.

Comcast last year launched a 10-gig symmetrical plan for its Gigabit Pro fiber customers – a plan that costs around $300 per month, according to CNET. Ziply Fiber also has a symmetrical 10 Gbps plan that’s priced at the $300 mark.

Google Fiber doesn’t currently offer a 10-gig tier (its highest speed offered is symmetrical 8-gig for $150/month), but the operator is plotting a 20-gig launch that will cost $250 per month.

At the Broadband Communities Summit on Tuesday, UTOPIA CMO Kimberly McKinley clarified the three new ISPs are strictly residential broadband providers, so the total 18 providers are residential as well. On the business side, UTOPIA partners with “30-plus providers.”

“Not all business providers want to be residential and vice versa,” she said, explaining UTOPIA does an annual RFP to choose ISPs for its network.

“Then there’s a vetting process [to make sure] that these providers are going to be good for the residents of our community,” McKinley said. “It’s a very robust process to get on the UTOPIA network. And we do that intentionally because we want to ensure the best quality.”

Roger Timmerman, UTOPIA Fiber’s executive director, said attracting service providers is probably “the biggest difficulty” for a lot of nascent open access networks.

As UTOPIA’s network has gotten larger, it now has “the opposite problem – there’s almost too many providers” going through the RFP process.

Timmerman noted UTOPIA currently has about “220,000 addresses passed and available,” counting both direct passings and those through the company’s operating partnerships.

In the past, UTOPIA’s “barrier of entry was pretty low” for new ISPs. But now it’s raised the bar, Timmerman said, “to ensure these are quality providers who are coming in to differentiate or provide special service that meets certain metrics.”

Indeed, running an open access network has its own set of challenges. AT&T’s Gigapower CEO Bill Hogg told Fierce in February it’s important to recognize each ISP on a network “is just a little different.”

“Just the variability of the plans they’re trying to put in increases the catalog of what you have to offer over your platform,” Hogg said at the time.

For UTOPIA’s part, the operator in 2023 built 448.5 miles of fiber, reaching a total of 23,069 homes passed in Utah. It also operates in a handful of other states, including Montana and Idaho.

Timmerman added UTOPIA’s open access model is “further evidence that broadband has not really become commoditized.”

“I think a lot of people try to drive a message that it is commoditized – it’s not,” he said.

“There’s different ways for providers to enhance their broadband with security or automation or over-the-top services, different types of support, different tiers of services," he concluded. "Having additional providers come on with their own specialties still adds a lot of benefits in the marketplace.”