Many Reasons to Say ‘No’ to UTOPIA [The Hub Debate]

UNOPia2 logoThis is  a Hub Debate on the proposed Macquarie acquisition of UTOPIAParticipate in the comments or submit a response for publication to UtahPoliticoHub@gmail.com.


Resolved: “UTOPIA cities are being offered a lifeline by Macquarie and, despite the estimated $18 to $20 per household utility fee increase, should take the deal.”


Taxpayers in UTOPIA, Utah’s largest and most spectacularly failing municipal telecom system, have many reasons to “say uNOpia to UTOPIA.”

First, a $1.8 billion tax hike is preposterous.

Second, UTOPIA failed throughout its 10-year history.

Third, it’s wrong to require every resident and business to pay the UTOPIA tax, even if they don’t want UTOPIA.

Fourth, internet access is not a utility like water or sewer service. Life without internet access may be inconvenient, but life without water or sewer service is dangerous.

There is another more important reason to “say uNOpia to UTOPIA.” For the past decade, mayors, members of city councils and city bureaucrats have governed UTOPIA as part of UTOPIA’s board of directors. Over that time, they have been unable to identify meaningful performance standards for UTOPIA management and staff, nor have they been able to implement metrics to spur UTOPIA management and staff to perform.

Those failures are hardly surprising. While the members of UTOPIA’s board of directors have all succeeded in their preferred profession, none of them was selected to the UTOPIA board for their telecom acumen or experience. They were chosen because they won an election, or because they make a city’s “trains run on time.”

With the structure of the proposed UTOPIA deal, this dearth of telecom expertise on the UTOPIA board will become even more problematic. If UTOPIA cities complete the proposal, UTOPIA will sign a “concession agreement” with Macquarie, the Australian firm hoping to complete and operate the UTOPIA network. That agreement will spell out the performance standards Macquarie must meet in building and operating the network, and how UTOPIA will gauge whether Macquarie has met those standards.

Macquarie will want those standards as low as possible; UTOPIA will them as high as possible. However, UTOPIA’s board has demonstrated that they don’t know what the standards should be, how high the standards should be, or how to gauge whether Macquarie has met those standards. And there’s no reason for taxpayers to believe that the current deal has given UTOPIA’s board new insight into what those standards and metrics should be.

If those standards and metrics are wrong – as it seems highly likely they will be – when something goes wrong, UTOPIA will point the finger at Macquarie as the operator. However, Macquarie will do exactly what is spelled out in the concession agreement. And if the concession agreement’s standards and metrics don’t prevent or account for that “something going wrong,” then Macquarie will rightly say, “Not our fault. We did exactly what the UTOPIA board demanded of us.”

Fixing that problem – whatever it is – will cost more money. And Macquarie won’t pay. If they perform to the concession agreement, they get paid. So taxpayers will be the only option. It’s time for taxpayers, city councils and mayors to finally say “uNOpia to UTOPIA.”uNOpia sign


 

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