UTOPIA laid 3 million feet of fiber in '22, eyes even more in '23

Open access network provider UTOPIA Fiber’s expansion effort picked up speed in 2022, enabling it to add more than 550 miles of fiber and twice as many residential subscribers as it did in 2021. For 2023, it’s looking to move even faster, CMO Kim McKinley told Fierce.

McKinley told Fierce it laid around 3 million feet of fiber in 2022, or about 568 miles. That figure marked a substantial jump from the 2.4 million feet (455 miles) it deployed in 2021. UTOPIA CMO Kim McKinley said it was able to increase its pace of deployment thanks in part to the “great relationships” it has with its contractors and suppliers.

“They are an integral part of the team and we couldn’t be where we are without them,” she said. “We discuss our plans and future plans with them on the regular and it helps us scale easier than most.”

To date, UTOPIA has built a total of 4,387 miles of fiber, or roughly 23 million feet, across its markets.

McKinley said it is looking to move even faster in 2023 than it did last year, accelerating its pace “with new cities and projects.” However, she declined to say exactly how many markets or which states it will be targeting for activity.

For context, UTOPIA’s build was a fraction of the 60,000 miles of fiber AT&T built in 2022. But UTOPIA also has a much smaller footprint, working in just four states compared to AT&T’s 21.

“Laid end-to-end, in 2022, UTOPIA’s crews placed enough fiber to stretch from Salt Lake City to Stockholm, Sweden,” UTOPIA Executive Director Roger Timmerman said in a statement.

Founded in 2004 by a consortium of 11 cities in Utah, UTOPIA Fiber is officially known as the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency and is a sister entity to the Utah Infrastructure Agency (UIA).

Its work in 2022 included the completion of builds in 14 cities across Utah, Idaho and Montana, including its 11 founding markets. Last year, the operator also signed a deployment agreement with its 20th city in Utah.

“Completing these cities marks a major milestone,” Timmerman said of its 11 original markets. “These cities stuck with UTOPIA during early-year turbulence and through UTOPIA’s eventual turnaround in 2009.”

While it didn’t provide an overall figure for subscriber gains, UTOPIA said it added more than 20,000 gigabit customers in 2022, with at least 19,000 of these residential. That’s more than double the 7,479 overall residential customers it added in 2021.

UTOPIA’s networks allow its 15 ISP partners to provide speeds tiers of up to 10 Gbps. In 2022, said it added nearly 400 10-gig subscribers, with the vast majority of these residential customers.

McKinley predicted that number will jump in 2023.

“ We will see a significant increase in uptake for the 10Gig service in 2023 for a variety of reasons that include gaming, employers paying for their employees’ internet service (i.e. working from home), and consumer grade devices,” she said. “In addition, the appearance of more consumer grade 10-Gig routers and devices makes it more appealing to consumers.”