With Google Fiber’s imminent arrival, perhaps the difficult days of Provo’s fiber-optic network are in the past.
It is a past fraught with controversy and financial challenge. Ultimately, however, the technology has fundamentally changed Provo’s operations – and will continue to change the lives of Provo residents.
The City of Provo sponsored the construction of iProvo, a fiber-optic network, in 2004. According to an article on Provo City’s website, the city intended it to be “first and foremost, a tool for meeting public needs.” The technological foray triggered varying resident opinions. Mayor John Curtis, too, had mixed feelings on the topic.
“I was not involved with the decision to build the city’s fiber-optic network,” he wrote on the Provo Insider blog. “My first reaction was to distance myself from that decision.”
The City of Provo struggled to fill the gap between revenue and expenses and ultimately sold the network to Veracity, a telecommunications provider, in 2008, according to a blog post that Curtis wrote.
The sale of iProvo was beneficial in that it minimized future expenses. However, the sale did not erase the bond created when the network was initially constructed. The municipal court authorized $39.5 million in bonds that were provided by private retailers.
In the Provo Insider blog, Curtis outlined the plight of Veracity at that time. Veracity had provided high-speed, fiber-optic Internet to thousands of customers inside and outside of the Provo area. Despite this, Veracity struggled in the same ways that the city did and could not maintain ownership of the network. The details of the ownership of iProvo became complicated. Ultimately something had to change.
Many residents criticized the actions of the city and the conundrum that Provo was in. The city weighed its options and ultimately decided that the people of Provo would have to help repay the debt.
“The solution is painful but the right thing to do,” Curtis wrote. “We need to pay our debt. Each and every Provo resident, regardless of intent, picked up an obligation to repay the $39 million bond when the network was built.”
Despite the reality of the $5.35 “Telecom Debt Charge” that Provo residents pay each month, this technology has revolutionized the way the city operates.
Power outages, for example, can be manipulated in real time and at a moment’s notice. Public safety operators can remotely monitor traffic lights in real time.
With Google Fiber’s arrival, the upgrades to the network and the increase in available bandwidth will perhaps accelerate change in Provo.
“The opportunity for every home to be connected with free Internet will change many things,” Curtis said. “This—combined with the high-speed option—will impact education, health care, community involvement and economic development all in dramatic ways.”
Joe Hadfield, spokesperson for BYU Communications, expressed his enthusiasm about Google Fiber coming to Provo and how it will affect Brigham Young University, which has also been able to take advantage of the fiber-optic technology.
“We’ve partnered with iProvo and Veracity on specific projects for a very long time,” Hadfield said. “We are excited about the prospect of similarly partnering with Google in the years ahead. It remains to be seen exactly what kind of opportunities arise with Google Fiber.”