After being bombarded by lobbyists, direct mail and radio ads for months, the Salt Lake City Council is set to vote on UTOPIA tonight.

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The current makeup of the council plus statements by three members indicate that Salt Lake won't join the 17 other cities that are part of the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency.

While she remains undecided, Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love said she sees three "pretty solid" votes against UTOPIA on the council.

Those three no votes would effectively kill the public fiber-optic network in Salt Lake City because Councilman Dale Lambert has recused himself from the vote, leaving only six voting council members. A three-three tie would mean Salt Lake City would not help underwrite UTOPIA's construction bonds.

Councilmen Dave Buhler and Eric Jergensen represent two of those expected three no votes. Some council members say Van Turner is the third. Turner, for the record, noted: "I need to be swayed a little bit more if I'm gong to vote yes."

Carlton Christensen is the lone council member who has said publicly he will vote in favor of backing UTOPIA, which would be constructed and operated at least in part by sales tax revenue.

By voting in favor of UTOPIA, the council would commit $4.1 million of that revenue for 17 years. That money would only be spent if subscriptions to the publicly owned network are less than UTOPIA's estimates. If subscriptions beat expectations, the city would keep its money and also turn profits that could reach millions annually.

A venture capital firm, Wexford Capital, LLC, has offered to cover part of the city's initial financial commitment. However, most council members have rebuffed that idea.

Aside from simply voting not to join, the council could under Utah law opt to remain in UTOPIA but not back the bonds. Within five years, the council could opt to bond for the project but voters would have to approve it.

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The UTOPIA consortium wants to build what would be the most extensive fiber-optic telecommunications network in the state. The network would offer telecommunication speeds up to 100 times faster than currently available. UTOPIA users would be able to access telephone, Internet and cable services in one connection.

Although the system would be built by cities, the network would be open to private companies, who would lease network space to compete for services.

The estimated cost for the network is about $540 million.


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com