UTOPIA Fiber brushes off critics as it expands to 19th city in Utah

UTOPIA Fiber extended its reach into southern Utah, announcing plans to build fiber to its 18th and 19th cities in the state. Its latest targets include the towns of Cedar Hills and Santa Clara.

Officially known as the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, UTOPIA Fiber is owned by a consortium of 11 cities in that state and is the sister entity to the Utah Infrastructure Agency (UIA). To date, it has bonded out for more than $400 million worth of fiber projects. These have primarily been in Utah, though it also struck agreements to deploy in Idaho in 2019 and Montana last year. As of February 2021, it had deployed to 15 cities in Utah using an open access network model.

The new projects come with a combined price tag of around $12 million. But UTOPIA Fiber's Deputy Director Kimberly McKinley told Fierce it also recently received approval from its board to go back out to bond for around another $20 million to fuel more installations in existing cities.

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She explained that when UTOPIA initially goes out to bond for a project, it only aims to secure enough money to cover the number of last mile connections it will take for that project to break even. When it exceeds those baseline take rates, it needs to get additional funding to expand the network.

“So the bonding that we’re seeing now is because of the incredible growth we’re currently seeing,” McKinley said. She added there are around 45,000 subscribers now on UTOPIA’s network, up around 20% from 2020.

McKinley told Fierce UTOPIA is seeing strong interest from municipalities in both Utah and across the country. It is currently in various stages of discussions with more than 20 additional cities, she said.


The executive said UTOPIA’s growth comes despite efforts by broadband incumbents and other naysayers to discredit its success and convince government officials a municipal network isn’t necessary. At a municipal meeting in Santa Clara, for instance, St George News reported TDS and InfoWest both tried to dissuade the town council from approving the deal with UTOPIA. InfoWest’s CEO reportedly argued against the fairness of the city setting itself up as a new competitor, while TDS pressed for an opportunity to improve coverage itself.

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Other arguments against UTOPIA have taken aim at its historical financial and subscriber performance. For example, the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School said in a filing with the California Public Utilities Commission UTOPIA had experienced “financial trouble” since its start in 2006 and continues to “carry significant debt” despite improvements to its business model.

McKinley acknowledged UTOPIA’s early years “weren’t the prettiest,” but said critics were cherry picking statistics and dredging up “things that happened in 2005 and thinking they’re still relevant.”

“Like any disruptor, which UTOPIA Fiber is, you’re going to see the big incumbents not be super favorable of anybody else coming in and taking their market share…so I think that is what you’re seeing,” she said. “What UTOPIA Fiber has done over the past 20 years since we really started this project is make Utah ripe for fiber.”