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UTOPIA offers new speedy Internet tier — for a price

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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) UTOPIA director of network engineering Roger Timmerman shows the company's fiber-optic hardware at their corporate office Tuesday June 12. Utah has the fastest broadband Internet speeds of any Western state and one of the fastest in the whole country, according to the latest report from Internet content delivery network, Akamai Technologies. UTOPIA is one of the few municpal Internet networks in the country that offers 1 gigabit of speeds to consumers.

By Vince Horiuchi

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jun 12 2012 06:20PM
Updated Jun 13, 2012 08:16AM

UTOPIA, the troubled consortium of cities building a high-speed fiber optic network in northern Utah, announced that as of Tuesday it is offering customers the fastest Internet bandwidth in the state — a blazingly fast 1-gigabit-per-second connection to the Internet.

But it won’t be cheap.

The newest residential offering will set folks back where it’s available $300 a month, and that doesn’t include the installation fee, which can be a one-time $2,750 if you buy the equipment or $30 a month if you lease it.

But officials for UTOPIA, or the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, insist their network of the future will be the necessity of the future, if not now.

"That bandwidth will be needed immediately," said Gary Jones, UTOPIA’s vice president of sales and marketing. "To not offer it when we can seems criminal."

During a news conference Tuesday, UTOPIA officials showed a video that depicted future uses in the home for such a large Internet pipeline, including high-definition video on wall-sized displays, touchscreens on car windows, and more. But they also insist there are features in the home today that require that kind of bandwidth. The company showed off demonstrations with high-definition video conferencing, home automation in which users can control the temperature or door locks remotely, and video security systems.

"It won’t be too far when you see connections no less than 100 megabits," said UTOPIA Executive Director Todd Marriott.

Before, UTOPIA’s fastest residential offering was 100 megabits per second, and it offered the 1-gig connection only to businesses. A 1-gigabit-per-second connection is about 1,000 megabits, or roughly 200 times faster than the average 5-megabit-per-second connection that might be offered through CenturyLink or Comcast. UTOPIA’s high-speed network uses fiber-optic cables linked to the home and is not available yet to every house in many of the cities that participate in the network. CenturyLink uses the telephone wires for its Internet network, and Comcast uses it’s existing cable television network for its service.

Comcast spokesman Ray Child says his company welcomes the increased competition, while noting that the benefit of Comcast’s service is that it is more widely available in Utah. He added that although Comcast might not be the fastest, it offers more speed to more homes in Utah than any other service provider.

The new 1-gig residential connection is one of several tiers that UTOPIA offers, depending on which Internet Service Provider is used with the network. The lowest tier is a 50-megabit-per-second connection for $29.95 per month through InfoWest. The 1-gig connections will be offered only through XMission and Veracity. There are at least five local ISPs to choose from that have partnered with UTOPIA to use its fiber-optic network. The data usage, or how much you can download or upload, is capped per month depending on which ISP you use.

To install the fiber optic cabling to your home, UTOPIA now offers two ways to pay for it — pay-to-own the equipment for $2,750 (or make monthly payments for 10 years or 20 years) or lease the equipment with a two-year commitment.

Since its inception in 2002, UTOPIA has been mired in complications and poor sales and has yet to make a profit. The consortium was originally formed by 16 Utah cities, 11 of which have pledged $500 million over 32 years to help back up the bonds to pay for the network’s infrastructure. Today, those 11 are considered "active" participants of UTOPIA in which the network is being built and has customers.

Jones said there are 10,000 customers signed up for the high-speed service. From 2008 through 2010, the service lost about 200 customers when one of the ISPs, Primetime, went bankrupt. But Jones said it has since made up that loss.

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi

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