For the last 20 years, the Utah Taxpayers Association has maintained this simple position when it comes to government-owned fiber networks: the government should not be in the business of business! The merits and risks of government-owned fiber networks are hotly contested, and public debate and decision on this issue is valuable and central to our democracy. Ultimately, since taxpayers are left liable for the debt incurred by these ventures, the decision ought to be placed directly in their hands and not deferred to a disconnected city council. 

Bountiful City Council’s recent decision to issue a $47 million bond to fund their city’s foray into government-owned fiber has not yet been put to voters, but it should be, and there is precedent for this process. Kaysville, in 2020, put this very proposition on the ballot for direct voter approval. Voters weighed the facts, opinions, costs and benefits, and rejected it. Since Bountiful City Council has thus far declined the opportunity to voluntarily put this issue on the ballot, your Utah Taxpayers Association has begun a petition to compel it.

 This petition effort is in keeping with Utah Code, the Utah Taxpayers Association’s purpose and historical efforts, and the interests of taxpayers. Utah Code 11-14-307(7) explicitly permits the gathering of signatures for a written petition to put the issue of bonding sales tax revenue to public vote. It does not restrict this permission to any group or group of people. The Utah Taxpayers Association consistently supports or opposes legislation or proposals based on its core criterium. In the case of Bountiful Fiber, the Association’s opposition is based on its criteria to oppose proposals which “use revenues for purposes which do not benefit those who pay the tax”, which “result in unnecessary governmental growth”, and which “the Association has previously opposed”. Similar efforts to petition government-owned fiber network proposals were undertaken by the Association as far back as 2009. In 2010, the Association even hosted a “Stop UTOPIA” barbecue attended by more than 250 people at a park next to Orem City Hall before a vote on the issue. The CEO of UTOPIA even showed up to the barbecue with the company’s technology demo trailer to try and push back on the effort.  The Association has been consistent and clear in its opposition to these risky ventures even as proposals to pursue them have proliferated.

The petition process is an important protection for taxpayers and voters, and your Utah Taxpayers Association will continue to both defend and utilize it. While the Bountiful City Council has held public meetings, published information, and conducted a feasibility study on the topic of a government-owned fiber network, there is room – and need – for further debate and discussion. Denying Bountiful City taxpayers this debate and the opportunity to vote on the issue is unjustified and undemocratic. While not every issue needs to be subject to direct democracy, it is in the interest of taxpayers that a proposal with such high financial risk be put to a vote.

Government-owned fiber networks are unable to compete with private companies, cost taxpayers dearly when subscription rates fail to cover debt payments, and have historically failed – here in Utah and across the nation. Taxpayers in Bountiful and throughout the state deserve the same opportunity to vote on this proposal as was afforded to Kaysville residents in 2020. A few [1] residents’ desire for faster internet speeds in an informal survey with minimal participation cannot and should not be construed by a City Council as permission to risk taxpayer money in a business venture.   

We encourage all Bountiful City residents to sign our petition to put the issue of a government-owned fiber network on November’s ballot. Doing so protects your tax dollars and your right to determine the level of risk you are willing to assume.

[1] Note that the sample size in the Magellan Feasibility Study was 370.  Utah Code requires that a petition to referendum a bond proposal be signed by at least 20% of eligible voters, around 4,500 in the case of Bountiful City.