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Orem Council votes to join UTOPIA

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 6:25 p.m. MDT

OREM — Orem residents will soon be living in UTOPIA.
After nearly six hours of debate Wednesday night, the Orem City Council voted unanimously to join the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Act — also known as UTOPIA.
As a result, Orem, when it becomes a member city, will be required to pledge sales-tax revenue as collateral for the project.
In Orem, that amounts to more than $2 million a year — but it's a price that city officials are willing to pay so Orem residents and businesses can have high-speed video, voice and data technology.
"I think this is where Orem needs to be, to be a viable city in the 21st century," said Orem City Councilman Dean Dickerson. "I am comfortable because I think Orem is going to benefit immensely from this."
However, making the decision hasn't been easy for the council, thanks to a bill passed by the Legislature. The bill requires member cities to host a public hearing and sign on with UTOPIA by April 15.
The bill, SB66, also prohibits other cities from filling any subsequent vacancies and requires them to wait three years before putting the issue to a mandate public vote.
However, much of UTOPIA's details, including the amount of financial backing required by each member city, depends on which cities actually get involved.
South Jordan already decided against the project, and four more hearings are scheduled for next week.
"It's like an insurance policy. We're all in this together so it spread the risk among everybody," said UTOPIA executive director Paul Morris. "(But) if Orem isn't doing so good, it doesn't mean that everybody isn't doing good."
A desire for heightened Internet and telecommunications services prompted most residents to speak out in favor of UTOPIA and against other private service providers.
"Your job is not to make sure that Comcast and Qwest get a fair shake. Your job is to help citizens get services," Lindon resident Phil Windley told the City Council.
There were a few naysayers who criticized UTOPIA for its financial risks and scope, however.
"If the competition is as intense as I hear it is going to be, just how many people in the city of Orem are going to have to sign on for this to make it profitable?" Tom Spaulding asked. "I can tell you, I'm not going to be one of those people."


E-mail: lwarner@desnews.com

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