Comcast & Centurylink Try But Fail to Stop a New Local Fiber Broadband Internet Provider





Local communities are taking control of their own broadband destiny, with an increasing number opting to fund and build their own networks. That initiative has been met with resistance from the larger internet service providers and cable companies. 

Take Bountiful, Utah. The city, with about 45,438 residents, didn’t merit a lot of attention from the larger providers and opted to invest $48 million of local funds to construct a fiber network, according to Salt Lake City-based news site KSL. The plan was to partner with Utopia Fiber to build the network and provide connectivity to every resident in the city. 

But, as Techdirt pointed out, it faced a campaign to derail the project from a group with ties to the internet service providers Comcast and Centurylink.  

While the campaign ultimately failed, it highlights the kind of potential political pitfalls communities face when pursuing their own municipal broadband initiative. Bountiful is just one of many places opting for their own network. Over 600 communities nationwide are building their broadband networks, according to Techdirt.

After the successful vote in May,  a group called the Utah Taxpayers Association (UTA) enlisted the help of Gather Utah, which appears to have no online presence, to acquire enough signatures on a petition urging the city council to scrap the project altogether.

The UTA appears to have ties to Comcast, with its former chair, Jennnifer Somers, now an executive for the cable giant’s Utah business. But the group does not disclose its members. 

When asked for comment, Comcast was not immediately available.

In a July op-ed for The Salt Lake Tribune, Gigi Sohn, a longtime consumer broadband activist who was nominated to serve on the current Federal Communications Commission as a commissioner before she withdrew her name for contention, pleaded with Bountiful residents to reject the petition. 

Late last month, residents followed Sohn’s advice, and the petition failed to gather enough signatures to halt the project.  

“[Our residents] organized a ‘Fiber for Bountiful’ campaign that led to a thorough consideration of many options,” Bountiful Mayor Kendalyn Harris said after the petition was rejected. “We now look forward to offering a vital service to residents and businesses in an increasingly digital world.”

If Gather Utah had been successful, the project would have been on a November ballot, delaying the construction to March or April 2024, pending that vote. Pushing back the project would’ve interfered with the approved bond amount, likely forcing the new cost to exceed the $46 million budget already approved.

The residents of Bountiful didn’t play along with Gather Utah’s efforts, although the city now anticipates construction to begin later than expected.

“Bountiful City exercised its freedom to choose how to provide every resident with affordable, super high-speed fiber broadband,” said Sohn, who is also the executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband. “We can’t let monopoly cable companies interfere with that freedom.”

Bountiful’s city council expects this project to take two to three years to complete. UTOPIA Fiber will run and create the open-access network, which will be leased to other internet service providers. Bountiful’s contract with UTOPIA Fiber runs through the next ten years.

The open-access networks won’t completely shut out Comcast. The company can still run on this network if customers sign up for their service. However, Comcast will have more competition in Bountiful.

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