The Deseret Morning News has been critical of iProvo on "philosophical" grounds, essentially arguing that no matter how successful the fiber optic network might become, a city government should not be in the telecommunications business.

I appreciate this opportunity to respond to that criticism, especially because as the three-term mayor of Provo tasked with delivering government services effectively, I agree that government should play a very limited role in society. I believe that government exists to provide only those services necessary for basic security, economic success and quality of life that the private sector either cannot or will not provide. It wouldn't make sense for each homeowner to create a water system or hire a police force or pave the patch of road in front of his or her house.

Providing these services under the direction of duly elected leaders is what city government is all about.

I firmly believe that ultra-broadband telecommunications infrastructure is as critical to the economic vitality and quality of life of Provo residents and businesses as other forms of basic infrastructure. None of us will be successful in the future without access to the electronic highway with enough capacity for the amazing and life-altering applications that are here today and the many others rapidly being developed.

A number of years ago, recognizing the need for an ultra-broadband network in Provo, we approached telecommunications providers and asked them to build such a network. Their clear answer was that they would not, or that it would be many years before they upgraded their networks to the level we knew was necessary. So we went through the proper channels of approval by city leaders, following legislative laws and intent, to construct iProvo.

In weighing whether this is the proper role of government, readers should be aware iProvo does not provide retail applications or services but makes available only the basic network infrastructure. Retail services are offered by private firms using the public infrastructure.

It is analogous to Provo city providing roads, but not owning or operating the trucking companies using the roads. We provide a municipal airport; but we don't own or operate the airlines that use it.

Similarly, we provide a basic fiber-optic public telecommunications network on which private firms can vigorously compete and offer advanced phone services, high-definition television, ultra-broadband Internet access, telemedicine, video conferencing, telecommuting and so forth. The system allows for school channels, neighborhood channels and new applications we can't even fathom today.

Rather than unfairly competing with the private sector, this arrangement encourages competition and attracts more private firms to offer services. The incumbent telecommunications firms have been invited to use the network. We strongly believe that fiber to the home and office is the only technology that will meet future needs. This network can offer gigabits per second, plenty to accommodate ultra-fast uploads and downloads of the full-motion, high-density video applications that are becoming ubiquitous on the Internet. This network will enable products that we have yet to conceive of but that are certain to become necessities in the decades ahead.

Provo citizens and businesses want to compete in the global marketplace. We want to attract businesses and residents who are on the leading edge of advanced technology. We don't want to become second-class citizens of the online world.

I firmly believe that providing this basic public infrastructure, on which numerous private providers can offer services and compete, is just what government ought to be doing.


Lewis Billings is the mayor of Provo city.