The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, or UTOPIA, has had a helpful push from the COVID-19 pandemic and is keeping crews busy installing fiber optics conduit and cable.

“We are a fiber state,” said Kimberly McKinley, chief marketing officer. “Most cities are connected.”

UTOPIA provides high-speed fiber-optic networks to partner cities along the Wasatch Front. Orem is one of those cities, and a legacy partner.

McKinley added that even rural places in Utah, like Morgan, which is completely built out with UTOPIA fiber optics, has some of the best connectivity in the country.

Connectivity has been going on much longer than the pandemic, but the desire for open infrastructure fiber optics is at a high demand as people continue to work and do school from home.

“As we come out of the pandemic you won’t see people automatically changing,” McKinley said. “The demand for fiber optics will be more.”

McKinley said UTOPIA currently has a list of 20 Utah cities that are contemplating the feasibility of putting fiber optics in the ground.

One of the great things, thanks in part to COVID-19, is the fact that UTOPIA/UIA has the revenue stream to get the final funding to complete the original cities’ buildout without having to go back to the cities for more money, according to McKinley.

For many years naysayers have said comparing fiber optics to, say, electricity is not sound. Now, communities see fiber as a utility and as a necessity, McKinley said.

“The cities who started this so long ago are considered visionary now,” McKinley said.

With that growing desire, installation crews are keeping busy.

“Over the course of the last year we have been working day and night,” said Bob Knight, UTOPIA spokesman.

Knight said that in 2020 crews have laid 1.7 million feet of conduit and 1.4 million feet of cable.

“There is no other network in the U.S. that has laid this much fiber,” Knight said. ”UTOPIA is the industry leader across the country.”

As of the end of the year, UTOPIA had 35,000 customers in its network.

While many cities don’t have fiber to their homes, McKinley said UTOPIA has business class services to more than 50 cities.

“2020 was an anomaly,” McKinley said. “Our biggest year could be 2021. This is new normal and it is giving us tremendous growth.”

The pandemic exacerbated trends and changed growth trajectories, according to McKinley. But that is not a bad thing for UTOPIA. McKinley says more providers are calling them.

UTOPIA, a joint agreement originally with 16 cities, began in 2004. It went south for a few years but rebounded in 2015 under new leadership. UTOPIA has been moving in a positive direction ever since.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

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