Ignoring the displeasure of cable and telco providers, there are more than 100 municipalities in the United States that have built or are building their own fiber networks to offer communications services. But, in Utah, there’s a government agency that’s doing something even more unusual. The agency, Utopia, is building community-owned open access networks.

In a September Communications Technology magazine article, Daniel O’Connell, president of the Fiber-To-The-Home Council, explained that an open access network (OAN) is where one entity owns and operates the network, while others offer the retail services to consumers and businesses over the infrastructure. (For more, see Dan O’Connell: FTTH Not Just A Verizon Thing).

Although OANs are popular in Europe, there are few in the United States.

According to Gary Jones, vice president/Marketing at Utopia, several municipalities along the I-15 corridor in Utah created the agency to provide a fiber network to residents and businesses. Eleven cities have made financial pledges to Utopia, including Brigham City, Orem and West Valley City.

Some of the infrastructure is funded by the cities, but residents who want a fiber connection must pay a $3,000 fee. "It’s like a utility – sewer, water or power," says Jones. "They can pay up front or over time."

He says door-to-door salespeople pre-sell the FTTH connections. Most of Utopia’s network is in existing, single-family-home neighborhoods, as opposed to greenfields. Utopia lays fiber down the street, and then homeowners purchase a lateral connection. Of the more than 600,000 homes in those cities working with Utopia, its fiber currently passes 60,000 homes.

The main vendors hired by Utopia are Corning Cable Systems and OFS Optical Cable.

Regarding the services available over the fiber network, most residential providers are offering a triple play; business providers are more focused on voice and data, with some security services.

"We have service providers that offer various services," says Jones. "Some focus specifically on business, some on residential and some both. Sometimes we provide retail type services that they can white label or sell on behalf of the network. Other times, we provide just the network. Some may or may not have a video offering."

Service providers using Utopia’s network to provide residential services include InfoWest, Veracity Networks, Sumo Fiber and XMission. For business services, providers include Paetech, Integra Telecom, Voonami and Connected Life.

But Jones said bigger service providers have, in general, tried to thwart Utopia.

"Quite frankly, a lot of our challenge is trying to work with, around or through them," he says. "They don’t like the municipal model. There are roadblocks. There are legalities. At every opportunity, we invite them to join the model. We are not a CLEC. We face the same challenges as others."

He adds, "The fundamental thing we’re doing is we’re building infrastructure which provides a high-speed network that’s somewhat futureproof. The cities at one point, many years ago, asked the private sector to jump in. They haven’t. That was unacceptable to these cities."

Asked if he’s aware of any other OANs in the United States, Jones says, "We think we might be the only one at this magnitude with multiple cities. Most tend to be more like Chattanooga." (For more, see Chattanooga Rocks When It Comes to Broadband).

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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