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PROVO — While subscribers to iProvo are increasing, revenue from subscribers to the network during the last fiscal year fell short of projections by more than a quarter million dollars, according to documents obtained this week by the Deseret Morning News.

IProvo's direct revenues from customers were projected to be $562,594 during fiscal year 2004-05, which ended June 30. The actual income was $298,017 — or 53 percent of projections, according to documents obtained from the city through the Government Records and Access Management Act.

The city maintained a healthy overall revenue picture for iProvo despite the shortfall because of several serendipitous windfalls unrelated to consumer demand, including nearly $335,000 more than anticipated in interest income from iProvo bonds.

"The system did meet budget," Mayor Lewis Billings said Thursday. "It didn't meet it in the way forecasted, and there's logical factors for why revenues and the number of subscribers were not as projected in the plan."

Until this week, no city official would provide an exact count of iProvo subscribers despite repeated verbal requests by the Deseret Morning News.

Billings predicted on July 15 that iProvo would have 4,000 subscribers by Sept. 15 — but said Thursday he predicted 4,000 subscribers by Thanksgiving.

"I think you'll see remarkable leaps in subscriptions in the next 60 days," Billings said in an interview after the July press conference to introduce two new service providers. "We'll go from under 2,000 subscribers to iProvo to 4,000 in 60 days. We'll be nearly halfway to where we need to be. I think you'll see us go into Thanksgiving with 4,000 to 5,000 subscribers, which would put us ahead of schedule."

On Thursday, Billings said, "I might have said within 60 days we'll see a tremendous momentum shift."

That certainly has happened this month, with more than 600 new subscribers.

"It was a bold prediction," Billings said, adding that he still expects 4,000 by the November holiday. "Our next goal is hitting 5,000 subscribers. We're expecting that to take some time, into March."

As of Sept. 9, iProvo had 2,267 customers, according to the documents obtained under GRAMA. By Thursday, the number had jumped to 2,600, said Mary DeLaMare-Schaefer, marketing and customer relationships manager for Provo City Power, which oversees iProvo.

She said the city expects to add large apartment complexes over the next few weeks. The complexes could bring 200 or 300 customers at a time.

"We'll likely see 3,000 by end of September or early October," DeLaMare-Schaefer said.

Officials say the project needs about 10,000 subscribers — roughly one-third of city households — to succeed. Success is critical because the City Council approved a $40 million bond to finance the ambitious fiber-optic system.

Provo leases space on its iProvo network to private companies it certifies to provide cable TV, high-speed Internet connections and Internet telephone services. The companies pay Provo through fees for subscribers to each of the services.

The transition over the past two months from HomeNet, which decided to concentrate on other ventures, to Veracity and MStar has been rocky, with phone customers experiencing problems with service. A break in the network caused outages and MStar has struggled in its debut as a phone provider.

"It didn't go charmingly well," Provo energy director Kevin Garlick said of the transition, "but we did weather the storm."

He said MStar is still testing its phone service in trials with some customers.

Provo benefited from more than half a million dollars in unexpected revenue, more than making up for the customer revenue shortfall. Most came in the form of the extra interest income. That money was generated by rising interest rates and slower-than-anticipated spending of bond proceeds, Provo budget director John Borget said.

UTOPIA provided $48,000 of the unexpected revenue. UTOPIA, another government-owned telecommunications provider, is leasing its cable feed from iProvo.

Billings admitted the project is behind schedule but remained optimistic.

"I hope this isn't a rainy-day, dark-and-gloomy article," he said. "You get behind. We are five or six weeks behind schedule on construction. That's not bad when you're halfway through. We're probably several months behind on subscriptions, but the (HomeNet) was unable to maintain the pace and ultimately we had to replace them."

HomeNet owes Provo an undisclosed amount of money; Provo declined to reveal the amount despite a GRAMA request. HomeNet has agreed to pay all of its outstanding debts, but city officials said they won't comment further until negotiations are completed in mid-October.

"They stopped paying their bills," Garlick said. "However, as part of the settling, they have agreed to make the city whole. They are making payments."

HomeNet released a statement to the Deseret Morning News saying it remained committed to the success of iProvo.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com