Payson is out. Orem and Lindon are in. Now what?

UTOPIA, the eight-year-old venture funded by 11 Utah cities to build and operate a fiber-optic telecom network in their communities, is moving forward after eight of the cities last week approved a $60 million bond to keep the project solvent, acting against the protests of the Utah Taxpayers Association.

Now a group of Utah entrepreneurs are lauding those eight cities for keeping the project alive.

"This is a huge win for Utah-based companies that want to supply their services to more homes and businesses," Connected Lyfe CEO Robert Bryson said. "This public infrastructure gives Utah entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow in this economy." Connected Lyfe provides phone, cable television and Internet service to cities across Utah by leasing space on UTOPIA's fiber-optic backbone.

"It allows more competition," he said of UTOPIA.

Bryson was one of more than a dozen entrepreneurs applauding votes by eight Utah cities to press forward with a plan to expand UTOPIA. They said UTOPIA is creating hundreds of jobs at a time when jobs are what the economy needs most.

XMission President Pete Ashdown said that large, out-of-state telecommunications companies enjoy their current duopoly in Utah "and do not want the increased competition that public fiber networks create. You have Comcast and Qwest heavily backing the Utah Taxpayers Association, who then acts as their front in attacking UTOPIA," he said, "but it should be remembered that many Utah-based companies are able to survive and thrive because of this needed public infrastructure."

Ashdown said that fiber and data are necessary infrastructures for the economy and country, and greater access is needed to create jobs.

"I live in Salt Lake, and we don't have UTOPIA. And I have the choice of Qwest and Comcast," he said. "If you are in UTOPIA, you have a dozen choices. I think it encourages competition and customer choice and drives down prices. I can best compare it to our roads and airports. FedEx and UPS don't have to build their own roads, but they provide an essential service to the county and boost the economy."

For Payson and the other cities not in Utah County that did not approve the new $60 million bond, they have what they have from UTOPIA and will not get more without paying more money.

"Since we are owned by the cities, it is sort of their decision," said UTOPIA spokeswoman Elizabeth Vincent. "What they have now is what they get until they decide to expand beyond that. They are comfortable staying where they are. We have a good partnership."

Payson and the other cities may still have a window to change their minds, knowing that eight other cities will be participating in the $60 million bond, she said.

"We are in constant dialogue with our member cities," she said. "They are welcome to re-evaluate."

To view the complete study, or for information about UTOPIA, visit utopianet.org.

Caleb Warnock can be reached at cwarnock@heraldextra.com.

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