More on Muni Fiber Failures

by on March 11, 2010 · 4 comments

I somehow missed this excellent ITIF paper by Robert D. Atkinson and George Ou when it came out at this point last year, but George has just dusted it off, made a couple of updates, and re-posted it over at the Digital Society blog. Worth reading. It touches on a lot of the same case studies I have been documenting in my ongoing series, “Problems in Public Utility Paradise.”  In particular, it focuses on the UTOPIA and iProvo fiascos out in Utah. Here’s a key takeaway from those case studies:

The lessons learned in Utah is that projected uptake models and deployment plans don’t always come to fruition, and when that happens the consequence is failure.  For UTOPIA, the project was projected to reach 35% uptake rates by February 2008 but the reality was less than 17% uptake.  UTOPIA had also hoped for 17% uptake from lucrative business customers but the reality was only 2 to 3 percent.  Provo County’s iProvo was hoping for 10,000 subscribers by July 2006 with the assumption that 75% of those customers would subscribe to lucrative triple play services, but the reality was 10,000 customers in late 2007 with only 17% of those customers subscribing to triple play.  Many consumers were quite happy to subscribe to existing broadband cable or telecom providers.  The consistent theme in Utah was an overestimation of the uptake rates and the underestimation of competition from incumbent cable operator Comcast and telecom operator Qwest which led to consistent underperformance.

Ouch. For more details, see this old essay of mine about UTOPIA from 2008, and this piece from last Sept about iProvo. Not a pretty picture. As I say every time I pen a piece about the latest muni failure du jour, these case studies should serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of grandiose, centrally planned broadband schemes. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Network-building is hard, and politicians usually aren’t that good at doing it.

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