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Lighting Up Utah with Open Access

At UTOPIA Fiber, the motto is “the more the merrier.”

Founded in 2004, UTOPIA Fiber is a group of 13 Utah cities that share an open access fiber network that provides both high speed fiber internet to homes and businesses across the state. Since its inception, the company has managed to offer up to 10 Gigabit service on a publicly-owned network that allows for ample competition among more than a dozen internet service providers.

At a recent Fiber for Breakfast live video series, two executives from UTOPIA Fiber talked about the benefits of an open access network, and how their experience has allowed people across Utah to access some of the best internet in the country.

“We’re the infrastructure and we enable private sector companies to ride on our lines,” said Kim McKinley, CMO of UTOPIA Fiber.

Open access networks allow independent service providers to operate on a shared network. In UTOPIA Fiber’s case, they build the network, manage it and update it over time. By entering into agreements with cities and communities around the state, they’re able to finance the projects and pay for them using revenue from the networks, said UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman.

What makes this open access model different from others is that all customers go through UTOPIA Fiber to get their internet and the company lets them select the service provider of their choice. Timmerman compared it to an airport: UTOPIA builds the infrastructure to house the “planes” and passengers decide which airline to select.

“We put in a fiber system and allow all these different companies to come in and use it,” he said. “This makes the network work in big cities, it works in small cities and it’s a really exciting model for bringing competition to rural areas that used to typically have no good options or none at all.”

McKinley said allowing this type of competition has increased customer satisfaction overall. Amid a pandemic, the company was able to add new cities to their roster, improve their overall customer satisfaction and secure new bonds for network expansion in the future.

“We’re the fastest growing municipal network in the country,” she said. “We are growing incredibly fast and it’s an exciting project and an exciting industry to be in now.”

One of the major benefits of the open access model is the expansion of competition. Timmerman said while UTOPIA hasn’t seen too many monopoly providers in their state—besides some cases in rural areas where there’s one provider—but as more companies are beginning to create their own networks, they’re interested in joining communal solutions. This helps drive prices down and gives customers options when it comes to things like speed and capacity.

“Being the monopoly is good for one entity—and that’s the entity,” he said. “I think there is a compelling case for them to participate [in open access models] when they’ve lost the market.”

McKinley and Timmerman said what makes UTOPIA Fiber most unique is its approach to the customer. Being able to provide reliable internet at competitive prices for cities large and small—and doing it with a direct relationship to the customer—allows them to serve areas previously overlooked.

“This was an effort by communities and people coming together to identify a need,” Timmerman said. “On their own, they wouldn’t have been able to pull this together. But through partnerships we’re able to get a good economy of scale. We serve those communities, we don’t have shareholders and we reinvest in the communities.”