PROVO — City officials laid out key strategies Monday that could be part of the final kaleidoscope of solutions to pull iProvo out of the red and into the black.

Mayor Lewis Billings, along with a lineup of city officials and independent consultants, presented the results of iProvo studies to the telecom board Monday afternoon at the Provo City Library. The city's fiber-optic telecommunication network is far below subscriber projections for 2007 — only an average of 16 added per week instead the expected 60 — and is on track to cost the city $2 million in 2008, adding more red ink to years of poor performance. But Billings said he's optimistic about the project's prospects.

"When you plant corn, corn grows as fast as it grows," Billings said. "We might have to be patient."

Billings laid out eight key strategies city officials will considered as they finalize their overall plan to turn iProvo around. Billings said the strategies include ideas such as increasing business subscribers or even privatizing the network.

City officials could present any combination of the strategies when they present the budget to the City Council May 6 at 11 a.m. in the Covey Center for the Arts.

Scott Chandler of Franklin Court Partners, one of two consulting firms hired by Provo last year to evaluate iProvo, said the city departments aren't tapping into the network's resources like they could. He said automatic meter infrastructures could be installed throughout the city to read water and electricity meters.

CCG Consulting representative Doug Dawson, who joined the meeting via conference call, said the city can reserve 35 percent of its network capacity for city departments to use to earn about $2.9 million per year.

"There's a whole lot of different ways the electric company can use the network," he said.

But Councilman George Stewart said he doesn't think the 2008 budget can handle the city department chargebacks. "There's no extra money to buy into the network," he said.

Energy operations manager Bruce Riddle said one possible strategy calls for a 4.5 percent rate increase in city energy bills to cover the cost. The rate hike would still be far below Rocky Mountain Power rates, he said.

Riddle did emphasize increasing energy rates is only a hypothetical. "This is simply an analysis of one of the alternatives," he said.

Analysis or not, Councilman Steve Turley thought the mere mention of hiking electric bills was a "nervy move."

"We're talking about two-thirds of Provo's population that don't subscribe to iProvo, and yet now we're going to in a very real sense of the word, use government monopolistic power to get two-thirds of the people to pay for something one-third of the population uses?" he said. "How are you going to sell that to the public?"

Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said he thinks privatization is still the city's best option.

"Provo needs to take this albatross off the back of taxpayers and sell it to the private sector," he said.

Billings said none of these options is set in stone. He also said there have been offers to buy iProvo but declined to give further details, citing nondisclosure agreements.

"There have been offers," he said. "But those offers haven't come to a place to harvest."

Billings also said anyone with questions, comments or recommendations can forward those to Kat Linford at klinford@provo.utah.gov.

"Everybody ... stay tuned," he said.

A video of the telecom board meeting will be available online at www.provo.org. The meeting will also be broadcast on Provo's Channel 17 over the next two weeks.


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