USTAR Depends on UTOPIA

This is a crosspost of an article I wrote on FreeUTOPIA.org, an advocacy cite for expanding and promoting municipal fiber projects like UTOPIA.

USTAR, the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative passed in the 2006 Legislature, is a piece of legislation designed to bring new research and biotechnology jobs to Utah by building new infrastructure and funding research grants into these Next Big Thing(TM) technologies. Given Utah's history of academic excellence through its many top-notch universities, it shouldn't be too hard of a sell to convince California companies fed up with the state's high taxes, a myriad of regulations, and expensive labor and land costs to relocate to Utah where the land is cheap, labor is plentiful, and our taxes are low.

These high-tech companies, though, are going to expect a top-notch infrastructure. They're going to expect office and warehouse space, open land for new development, an excellent power grid, and well-designed transportation systems. Above all else, however, they are going to require high-speed and low-cost Internet connections to coordinate research between far-flung locations.

The next-generation Internet2, in use only in a handful of universities, allows sending high-resolution medical imaging across the nation in the blink of an eye. Large amounts of data are transferred in seconds instead of hours with an entire DVD being sent in under one second. This kind of speed has opened up all kinds of exciting new possibilities in remote collaboration, video conferencing, and distance education. This is just the kind of thing that biotechology companies are going to require to set up operations in our state.

Utah has Internet2 lines running through the state, but they're only for universities with deep pockets. DSL and cable can't offer the kinds of speeds that researchers need either, often capping the upload speed at a mere fraction of the download speed. While they would be able to download information quickly, they could only send information at a fraction of the sped. These researchers are stuck turning to high-priced T1 lines which often run $400+ per month.

That is unless they live in an area served by UTOPIA. UTOPIA connections for business are over 20 times the speed of a T1 line but are often only 1/3 of the cost. Since there are a lot of cities not participating and unincorporated county land is shut out, companies looking to take advantage of UTOPIA are very limited in their choice of sites, something that could discourage them from coming to Utah at all. This will totally backfire on USTAR and impede its success.

We simply cannot attract cutting edge technology companies without a cutting edge communications system. For USTAR to succeed, we need UTOPIA to be available no matter where they choose to set up shop. We must amend state law to allow deployment in unincorporated county lands and get more cities on board with the deployment. Without doing so, USTAR will not be able to acheive the lofty goals assigned to it.

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