By GORDON LARSEN
As the information superhighway gains importance, Provo is racing to not be left behind.
Provo leaders hope to see the city?s iProvo telecommunications network boost the local economy and give Provo residents, schools and businesses an alternative to snail-like dial up connections and expensive broadband. The city-owned voice, video and data network is already available to half of Provo and will be completed by July of 2006.
Provo Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Parker said getting Provo wired is a necessary step for economic growth.
?It?s a pioneering effort to look at providing fiber optic broadband to every home and business in the community,? Parker said.
Before coming to Provo, Parker was director of management services in Ogden for eight years, during which time Ogden was named the most wired city of its size in the nation. Parker said helping Provo play catch up is an important part of his job.
Mary Delamar Shaefer, marketing and customer relations director for iProvo, agreed that the project isn?t only about low cost and convenience for local residents, it?s also a crucial step in economic growth for the city.
Bringing ultra high-speed Internet requires large bandwidth which only fiber can provide. This is the type of technology that will attract companies to Provo, she said.
?We believe that iProvo will help either recruit, companies will come because of it, or they?ll stay because you?ll have an affordable option for having access to the finest of the best of the broadband services in our country,? Shaefer said.
Success with the project is not a guarantee though. Municipally- owned telecom networks are a risky business, a fact that became obvious with a recent lawsuit by Qwest against the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency.
Qwest accused UTOPIA of discriminatory market practices, saying exemptions from sales and property taxes allow the 14-city telecom network to offer below-market prices and have an unfair advantage.
Provo has so far been able to avoid the controversy, but Qwest spokesperson Vince Hancock said the company is certainly keeping tabs on iProvo.
Even without a lawsuit by Qwest or Comcast, iProvo?s top two competitors, success for the project will require about 33 percent of Provo residents to subscribe to the services offered by the network. Three independent market research studies said this goal is achievable.
Provo resident Jo Ann Larsen still uses a dial-up connection and said cost will still be the biggest factor for her.
?Right now I guess it would have to be pretty cost comparative to make it worth my while because I?m not online a lot,? Larsen said. ?If I were online all the time then that would become a higher priority and it would be worth paying more to get that [high-speed Internet]. It?s a tradeoff between the speed and the price.?
Kelly Ryan, CEO of HomeNet Communications Inc., the company Provo contracted with to provide services on the network, is optimistic and said the biggest advantage of iProvo comes with bundled packaging. Ryan said the ability to provide high-speed Internet, flat rate phone pricing and more than 70 channels of video all on the same network will save customers up to $50 a month.
Ryan also said the educational benefits of iProvo will be a huge plus.
?With this type of technology, we?re literally able to have parents record school events, bring it to us and put it on the video-on-demand server and make it accessible to the whole community,? Ryan said.
The biggest benefit, though, is having locally owned and run services, he said.
?It?s all about Provo,? Ryan said. ?It?s designed for Provo. The dollars stay here in Provo. The content and programming and everything that?s being built here is for the benefit of the citizens in the community.?