May 25, 2016
As the Coalition for the New Economy has pointed out previously, Provo, Utah provides one of the most cautionary tales when it comes to government owned-broadband. To recap: this city spent more than $30 million on a city network that failed and was eventually sold to Google for $1.
As Watchdog.org noted last week, city leaders pledged that high-tech firms would swarm to Provo because of its high-speed municipal network, called iProvo. Some new startups did move to the city, but according to Watchdog and to Brigham Young University Economic Professor Brennan Platt, iProvo had nothing to do with that migration.
Platt told Watchdog, “I don’t think municipal broadband was directly connected to Provo’s success.” Instead, Platt said the city successfully attracted high-tech firms, first, because it is “filled with young college graduates with cracker-jack technology skills” and, second, because two private Internet providers, Comcast and CenturyLink, provided well-priced service in the city.
Platt concluded, “I don’t think we would have languished and sat in some type of dark ages of Internet silence if we didn’t have iProvo.’’
The BYU professor isn’t the only local expert who drew that conclusion. According to Watchdog, Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce President Rona Rahlf said she doubts iProvo did anything to improve the city’s economy. Rahlf said a well-trained, loyal workforce was the key driver behind the city’s success.
Platt also discussed city officials’ mismanagement of iProvo. He argued that, in general, “the problem is that whenever government steps into these private industries, thinking they can do it better, it usually turns out they did something people didn’t want or that was overly optimistic by the costs of doing it.”
Independent information technology policy analyst Steve Titch spoke directly about iProvo. He said, “iProvo got bogged down in construction delays, court cases and difficulties finding quality retail partners” and noted, “The city had predicted 10,000 subscribers in the first two years … but what I remember was they got around 20 percent of what they projected in terms of signups.”
Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce President Rona Rahlf concluded iProvo “was a drain on city coffers, was poorly managed and created great strife in the community.”
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