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Provo Municipal Council Approves iProvo City Fiber Project by 6 to 1 Vote

by Arthur Brady

Few things are more energizing to me than honest, vigorous debate. For the past four hours, I’ve been witnessing, participating in and marveling at local government in action. An hour ago, after five years of planning, thousands of hours of study and testimony, thirty-plus public statements, and heartfelt summations by its members, the Provo Municipal Council voted 6 to 1 to authorize the building of iProvo.

Another shot heard round the world!

The Council chambers were packed, and the order of the day for public comment was: 30 minutes for those opposed at 3 minutes each; 30 minutes for those in favor, also at 3 minutes each; a 20-minute break for the two camps to caucus and designate rebuttal spokespeople; then 15 minutes for the pros, followed by 15 minutes for the cons.

When I said earlier that few things energize me more than honest debate, one of those few is less-than- honest debate. And in the midst of sincere, thoughtful exchange of opposing views, there were a couple of examples of the latter type I’d like to describe.

The Utah Taxpayers Association weighs in…

Mr. Jerman began his time at the podium accusing the Council members of “rigging the testimony” by having the “pro” voices follow right after the (statutorily mandated) staff reports. He thought it somehow unfair that the reports and recommendations of Provo staff, Provo Power Board, the iProvo task force and all save one neighborhood council chairs were in strongly in favor of the project.

He spent more time arguing about the order of the testimony than anyone else spent in giving their statement, and he then demanded that the 3-minute clock be re-set. He continued by likening iProvo to European socialism and even—gasp—the “c” word. And he ended by taking a shot at one of the longest- serving council members of not paying close enough attention to his lecture.

Style or strategy?

Now, I’ve not seen Mr. Jerman in action before, so I don’t know if what I and a couple hundred others saw was a style choice, or a strategy. In any event, it is of a piece with the printed rhetoric of the UTA about which I’ll have more to share, both here and in the press later in the week.

He bristled at the suggestion, offered by yours truly and at least three others at the mike, that their position is perhaps not coincidentally similar to that of two of their largest members. He went so far as to claim that all 2,000 members of the UTA are “completely united in their opposition” to city fiber projects. Must have missed that survey. But his public declaration that “only 2-3%” of UTA support comes from Qwest and Comcast, if true, means that the monopolies are getting wonderful value for money.

Comcast weighs in…

Comcast’s spokesman had a different style coach. His was a courteous, professional presentation. In substance, however, he was working from the same book. His reference to “$350 million invested in system upgrades” left one thinking that it was all in Provo, or at least all in Utah, rather than nationwide. He spoke of “an unprecedented array of services” just around the corner. He avoided the core questions of service quality, reliability and price, about which so many people spoke unflatteringly. He concluded by saying that “irregardless [sic] of the decision, Comcast is here to stay.” Glad to hear it. After all, choices are good!

I wanted to ask him, by the way, whether a couple of those millions of investment went into that rather stylish building in Lindon to which I’ve been required to drive—twice—to return a Comcast set-top box lest I be charged an additional fee when cancelling the service.

Given that the pros and cons were so thoroughly covered…

My modest contribution at the podium came in two parts, th e first with my Telecom Choices hat on, and secondwith my private passion on display. I shared some thoughts on the absurd argument that city fiber is dependent on “taxpayer backing” while the Bell monopolies and their successors are not. Both are, though in different forms (think “captive ratepayers and government guaranteed rates of return”), with city fiber offering a way to end the monopoly and create vigorous competition.

My academic credentials include a graduate degree in library and information science, and the majority of my business career has been centered on technology for getting people and information together. I described to the Council members the universe of content to be had at little or no cost, and that the bandwidth breakthrough of city fiber will remove the last barrier to it. “Speed,” I said, “is not about quickness. Speed is about access.”

And so they voted, 6 to 1 in favor…

A recent scholarly work by John Berresford provided the quote with which I ended my remarks to the Council, and which I’ve adopted as my call-to-action for all of the city councils yet to decide on city fiber. He says: “Given the power to delay change that incumbent technologies usually have, welcome new technologies will require government to think of the long term and to be courageous.”

The Provo Municipal Council was courageous, and we should all thank them for it. -

P.S. The iProvo project has been subject to five years excruciatingly detailed and often hostile scrutiny, and is on the record with a scope, a price and a timetable. So, from the podium, and at the urging of the hallway caucus of iProvo supporters between the first round and rebuttle round of public comment, I specifically challenged the Qwest and Comcast representatives to tell the Council exactly what their companies are going to do, by when, and at what cost.

Though order of the day gave the last word to the opponents of city fiber, neither of the monopolies chose to comment.

Posted by windley on January 21, 2004 06:27 AM