You could almost hear the sigh of relief in Provo on the afternoon of April 17 when they announced Google Fiber is taking over iProvo. The most exciting part is that Provo will not own the network and will be finally, after several tries, out from under the burden of maintaining and upgrading it.
I only hope that we can find a similar solution for Orem, because UTOPIA, like iProvo, has been a drain on Orem's budget and the taxpayers' dollars for almost a decade. It is clearly the single biggest problem facing Orem.
Orem is facing a possible 25 percent property tax increase largely due to UTOPIA costs. UTOPIA was projected to break even after three years and show a positive cash flow in five years. Now after more than nine straight years of losses it is time to get out. It was a grand and noble idea that has just not worked out as planned. It is often difficult to admit mistakes and change course, but that is what Orem must do.
In 2008, even UTOPIA's funding from the Rural Utilities Service loan program of the federal government was suspended due to its poor financial condition and an inadequate — if not nonexistent — business plan. This should have been a huge red flag to our city leaders. There have been many warnings along the way and if any of them had been heeded, Orem residents would have been spared tens of millions in debt.
Unlike iProvo with its nearly 100 percent build-out, the current UTOPIA system in Orem is only at about 38 percent, and yet the technology is quickly being surpassed. Technology moves so quickly. Google Fiber General Manager Kevin Lo asked the audience on April 17 to think of just a few years ago. Tablets were nonexistent. Think of the cell phone you have now compared to the one you had just five years ago. Cities using their residents' tax dollars cannot keep up with the pace that technology changes.
Google estimates that upgrading the iProvo system will cost Google nearly $20 million. As Orem considers the future of UTOPIA, these facts, although discouraging, are reality and must be considered.
We cannot assume Google will run to our rescue. Instead we need to send out the search parties, as Provo did, to find someone who is willing to take our investment and finish the project.
It's a shame that Orem and 10 other cities' taxpayers are paying for the poor oversight of those charged with the responsibility to manage UTOPIA and ensure its success.
At this point we must face reality and stop the bleeding. The cost to the citizens of Orem is just too high.
Richard Brunst is a candidate for Orem mayor and owner of Western Pipe Coaters & Engineers, Inc. in Orem. His email is: [email protected]