Herriman leaders weighing options for high-speed fiber internetSep 23, 2020 01:43PM ● By Justin Adams
Recent events have highlighted the importance of making sure all residents have access to high-speed internet options. (Wikimedia)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
The Herriman City Council discussed possible options for establishing a fiber network throughout the city that would allow residents to access more high-speed internet options.
Currently, mostly just newer developments are connected to a fiber network. The rest of the city relies on cable networks, which have limited options (Comcast or CenturyLink). If the whole city were connected to fiber, residents would enjoy higher internet speeds and be able to select from dozens of internet service provider options.
The question is, how does the fiber network get built, and who pays for it?
One option for the city is to partner with a company called Utopia, a Utah-based company that has brought fiber to cities such as Orem, Murray, Midvale and West Valley City. The company offers to a city to build the fiber network infrastructure, which is about a two- to three-year project and would cost about $30 million. Then, if at least 35% of Herriman residents sign up to use that newly built fiber connection, the city doesn’t owe Utopia a cent. However much of the city falls short on sign-ups, the city has to pay the difference.
Regarding this option, Councilmember Jared Henderson expressed concern that it would amount to awarding a monopoly for what many people consider to be a utility, to just one company.
“The city’s basically bankrolling one company’s ability to put the road in, then they get to own it and charge our residents to use it,” he said.
Another option for the city would be to adopt high-speed internet as a utility that it manages, like electricity or water. It would finance the construction of a fiber network directly and manage it as it does with any of its other utilities—charging fees to residents and hiring a staff to maintain it. Residents would just be paying for connection to the network and would still have the freedom to select a service provider of their choice.
This solution drew some concern from Councilmember Sherrie Ohrn.
“My concern is competing with the private market,” she said. “I fundamentally don’t think the government should be setting up organizations that compete against private markets with taxpayer funds.”
Councilmember Steven Shields said he’s not too concerned with that because it’s a service the private market isn’t providing at the moment.
“The truth is, private enterprises aren’t providing this service to the city,” he said. “They have an opportunity and they’re just not doing it. In fact, the only way we’re going to get a private company to do it is if we backstop their cost of building it. They’d still be using taxpayer money to guarantee their cost of construction and then have a utility they can make profit off of for the rest of time. Either way we’re still using taxpayer money.”
“I think high-speed internet should be considered a utility,” Mayor David Watts said. “While normally I’m not a huge fan of city government getting into a business per se, I look at this like electricity or water.”
The council briefly discussed the option of commissioning a feasibility study to formally assess the different options but ultimately decided that would be too costly at an estimated $75,000 to $100,000.
Instead, the council elected to form a committee composed of Ohrn and Shields, along with relevant staff members, to continue examining the issue in an attempt to figure out the best path forward.