PROVO The iProvo review committee met Wednesday to air "brutal facts" about the city-owned fiber optic network, sparing no verbal jab at the project's management along the way.
The City Council-approved review committee which includes a who's-who lineup of local politicians and businessmen met at 7 a.m. in the Covey Center for the Arts for a briefing from City Council members about iProvo. While the committee members aren't telecom specialists, City Councilman George Stewart said he organized them in the hope they will provide alternative assessments regarding iProvo's viability and the repayment of its debt obligations as the city budget is finalized.
"(IProvo is) the single most important financial issue facing our city," Stewart said. "We need to find some way to close the deficit."
Although the board was formally organized to discuss iProvo's financial situation, critical remarks were directed at the mayor's office and its management of iProvo. Stewart said Mayor Lewis Billings called Provo a pioneer in telecommunications. But he noted the word pioneer also has a bad connotation.
"Pioneering sometimes isn't the best," he said. "I wouldn't want to be the people in Wyoming in 1847, I'd rather be on the train in 1865."
Provo spokeswoman Helen Anderson said she's heard about some of the critical nature of the committee meeting. She said Billings is out of town attending a meeting with the Joint Highway Commission and is unable to comment until he reviews the minutes or transcript of the meeting.
While he was critical of management and financial issues, Stewart continued to say iProvo's network is incredible technology, but the system is in a bad situation.
"We have a very valuable network that is worth what we put in the ground," he said.
At issue: iProvo has lost an estimated $7.5 million since 2003, and Stewart said he estimates the telecommunications network will cost the city another $2 million in 2008.
Ron Eliason, vice president of Capital Community Bank, said the proof of a company's quality is in its bottom line.
"If you can't budget and meet it, then you've got a management problem," he said.
Earlier this week, Billings and city staff presented a list of possible strategies to turn around iProvo, including charging city departments for use of the network, implementing advanced meter infrastructure throughout the city or even privatizing the network.
City Councilwoman Cindy Richards said the board is not targeting any single person or group for the current state of iProvo.
"This is about attacking a problem," she said. "That's why we're looking at numbers."
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he wished Billings had been present at the meeting to explain some questionable numbers he spotted in one of the consultant reports commissioned by the mayor's office to explore the alternative ways to make iProvo profitable.
Bramble, a certified public accountant, said he noticed the report, prepared by Franklin Court Partners, stated the average number of iProvo subscribers is 184 per month. But, according to figures for June 2007 to March 2008, Bramble said the average is much lower: around 81 per month.
Bramble said he wouldn't go before the Legislature with a report that ignored recent trends.
"That would be pretty difficult to defend under cross-examination," he said.
Stewart said they discussed issues such as low subscriber rates, poor financial performance and the consultant reports to bring the committee up to speed on iProvo. He said his only intent in organizing the board is to generate ideas to fill the budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year.
"I do have an agenda," he said. "And that's finding the money to pay for this year's budget."
Jan Carlile, chairwoman for the Intermountain Healthcare Urban South Regional Board, said she appreciated Stewart's "forceful personality," but said she wants to look for the "best unpolluted decision" without feeling like she's driven in any particular direction.
Bramble said he didn't know enough about iProvo's finances and wanted to review telecom reports to make an informed decision.
"We're all entitled to our own opinion," he said. "But none of us are entitled to our own facts."The committee requested budget reports and projections about when iProvo is expected to reach profitability, as well reports about retail providers' marketing strategies and iProvo's annual performance compared with projected performance for the past five years. They will reconvene a week after the city budget is presented to the council on May 6.
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