“We are talking about a new utility and it will cost a significant amount of money to move into this,” said Lehi City Mayor Mark Johnson, who, along with the City Council have made citywide fiber a priority in 2020.
Tuesday, before the City Council meeting, the City Council traveled to Spanish Fork to tour the community’s facility and discuss the opportunities and challenges of creating a City-owned network. Spanish Fork City created Spanish Fork Community Network (SFCN) in 2001 to provide the community with cable television and phone capability. In late 2015, SFCN added fiber internet to its service capabilities and has now created a citywide fiber network within the last four years, notably without using any taxpayer funds.
“I thought it was really good, I thought they had some really good information for us, and they’ve done a great job,” said Lehi Councilman Mike Southwick.
Councilman Paul Hancock added “It was great to talk to a city that has ‘been there and done that’ and been successful. You rarely hear about cities successfully doing it on their own; it was nice to talk to one that has.”
Councilwoman Katie Koivisto shared similar thoughts, “It was great to hear about the profits they were able to make off of it, it’s sustainable. They were very encouraging toward us,” she said.
During Pre-Council, a short presentation was given by a fiber consultant and Lehi resident Dave Maughan, at the request of Mayor Johnson.
Maughan introduced himself by sharing his experience, “I built fiber networks starting in 1993, with Advanced Fiber Optics, which is still a company today. I exited the company 12 years ago and currently just do consulting.” His most recent consulting projects include bringing Verizon Fios fiber to cities around Portland, Oregon.
Near the beginning of the conversation, Councilwoman Koivisto asked “We have Spanish Fork saying, ‘build it out on your own’ and then we have UTOPIA who have come to us and said they want to handle it for us. Where are you at?”
Maughan clarified his purpose for being involved by saying “I just consult, I help [cities] make the right choice. There are quite a few companies that are building networks for cities, it’s about finding the right one. The one that has the best track record, the one that has the best reports from cities, the ones that have done the work out in the streets–what are they doing and how are they building it.”
The conversation continued with Mayor Johnson asking how Maughan would suggest rolling out the project and where to start, noting that City connectivity and infrastructure would take top priority.
“Once we roll out, trying to determine what areas are going to be served first, that’s going to be a really difficult question and it’s going to end up being a political question,” said Mayor Johnson.
Maughan shared his thoughts around the build-out saying, “You need to be looking at where are we going to recoup our investment the quickest? Where are we going to have people sign on and utilize the network and start paying to help defray the cost that will be incurred by the City? Where are we going to have a high density of companies and a high density of users, those are areas to target.”
To conclude, Maughan was asked how long a city-wide project would take in Lehi, with approximately 17,000 homes. “We did a little over 20,000 homes in Beaverton [Oregon] and it took us almost three years,” said Maughan.
Mayor Johnson acknowledged social media chatter and the desire of some residents to start this project as soon as possible but emphasized the time needed and complexity of the effort. The City anticipates a decision within the next few months.