June 1st, 2010

Utah’s UTOPIA is Anything But

photo credit: eyeCatchLight

In April 2008, West Valley City Councilman Mike Winder was faced with a vote that almost a dozen Utah city councils were likewise deciding: should they saddle residents of their city with more of a financial burden to give money to the publicly-financed company UTOPIA? The vote in question was a proposal to commit taxpayers to 33-year bonds in order to raise funds for another phase of building out their fiber network.

Councilman Winder voted against the proposal, though it passed in his city on a narrow, 4-3 vote. Since that time, Winder became mayor of West Valley City, and in April of this year penned an op-ed expressing firm support of the company. Mayor Winder’s about face (and then some) is a microcosm of the situation scores of municipal officials find themselves trapped in.

UTOPIA stands for the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, a consortium of 16 Utah cities—11 of which are “pledging cities”, joined together in their common cause of burdening citizens with bonds to lay down an infrastructure of fiber-optic cables in order to provide speed-of-light solutions for internet, television, and phone services. Barred by law from providing retail services themselves, they partner with other companies who use the network to offer these services to residences and businesses. This introduction of competition, we’re told, is an opportunity for the free market to function within the socialist-at-first-glance tax-funded system.

UTOPIA has been successful in getting its member cities to twice pledge sales tax revenue for bonds in order to fund its operations. The second round of funding became necessary after company officials sought cash from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service—a federal program which hands out billions of dollars in stimulus fashion and whose ancestor is FDR’s 1935 Rural Electrification Administration—but met with resistance and then outright rejection. Their failure to secure “free” federal money sent them back to their member cities with empty pockets and cupped hands extended, begging for more bonds.

Despite Winder’s “nay” vote, West Valley City and almost every other member city agreed to more cash—after all, UTOPIA was seen as “too big (or important or vital or whatever) to fail”. $181 million was secured and promised to be repaid over 33 years in a balloon payment plan. That money is now gone (with fingers pointed by UTOPIA leaders at the poor economy) and they’re asking for more.

The executives profiting from taxpayer money have a new plan, though. This one, they say, will work (unlike the promises previously made with past business models). “We believe in it fervently,” said Layton City Manager Alex Jensen—one of scores of other city administrators and officials whose political futures may very well rest on this issue alone, given the magnitude of the financial commitment they’ve increasingly made in the name of each resident. He also smugly suggested that he and other city officials “are not embarrassed or ashamed” about asking for more money—this after twice burdening residents with bonds to support a company who can’t even cover operating expenses at the moment, let alone the bond payments themselves.

Mayor Winder, once-opponent-turned-propagandist for UTOPIA, has declared that “there is light at the end of the Utopia tunnel.” He states that all that is needed is more subscribers to make the business viable. Winder’s cheerleading is reminiscent of similar platitudes spewed from executives of all sorts of failing companies who turn to the government for financial aid. Whether we’re talking about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, General Motors, Amtrak, or UTOPIA, red flags and warning bells should appear in full force when modern-day Wimpys offer promises in pursuit of your money.

But unlike private businesses who later turn to government for taxpayer-guaranteed loans and “free” money, UTOPIA exists only because some municipalities embraced the democratic process to override the objections of those who disagreed and voted to commit everybody to millions of dollars of bonds to fund an experimental infrastructure project. Some opponents throw out the “socialism” label at UTOPIA, and rightly so, but fail to extend their scorn to other government-run infrastructure projects such as UTA, airports, convention centers, etc.—no surprise here, as conservatives are rarely consistent.

Those defending UTOPIA point to infrastructure projects traditionally implemented by municipal governments—power grids, sewage systems, water access, etc.—and attempt to tie internet access to these other “public works” required for a non-agrarian standard of living. In the eyes of such, Finland must be a pioneer, where broadband internet access is a guaranteed legal right. While libertarians may quibble about government-funded and -owned infrastructure projects, one can at least make the case for water, electricity, and sewage being provided by local governments or some form of cooperative overseeing the services. But to argue that internet access is a “human right”, a “basic need”, or in any way equivalent to traditional “public works”, and thus deserving of government bonds to fund its implementation, is an expensive exercise in increased intervention. What’s next? Should a home itself be a legal right, in a “war on homelessness”? Or automobile ownership, access to a gym, or government-provided gardens for growing your own produce?

In his op-ed, Mayor Winder stated that the question at hand is not “Was UTOPIA a good idea or bad idea?” but rather “Looking at our hand today, what is our best way forward?” This attitude of dismissing the historical context and stifling any discussion around the principles involved in the original decision is a popular one we also see in regards to the military conflict in the Middle East, TARP, and other instances in which the government has improperly intervened and yielded, unsurprisingly, negative results. Winder is wrong to cast this aside.

But what of his question? What is “our best way forward”? It’s a question that’s also been asked in regards to Amtrak, for example: should the significant investment of taxpayer money simply be sold off for pennies on the dollar, or should more money be committed in an attempt to make the business venture profitable? The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board recently called for a “cut and run” from UTOPIA, suggesting that member cities not dig deeper into the money pit in which they’ve cast the financial future of their citizens. There is common sense wisdom in such advice.

At its core, UTOPIA is founded on amazing technology: fiber-optic cables capable of transferring massive amounts of information. It’s a proven technology that in many ways is the future of our communications infrastructure. But taxpayers should never have been the financiers of this project, nor should they continue to be; if projects like UTOPIA are to be successful, they must rely on private funding and risk-taking.

Governor Herbert praises UTOPIA as having a “sustainable and reliable model”, but one wonders what evidence he is looking at. The model pursued until now, and any future models conjured up, all rely upon a burden of debt placed upon tax-paying residents of each pledged member city. When the subscription projections fall short, as they have, and as they very well could far into the future, the company must beg for more bonds; this is hardly a “sustainable and reliable model”, the Governor’s cheerleading notwithstanding.

It is time for member cities throughout Utah to have the tenacity to chalk up their losses and swallow the debt burden they were previously committed to. Sell off the existing network to an interested buyer, allow future entrepreneurs the ability to further develop the infrastructure themselves where the market demands it, eliminate regulatory burdens and other government interference that favors the existing duopoly of Comcast/Qwest, and let consumers demand the services they desire.

City officials were not elected to be fortune tellers; buying into the pie-in-the-sky promises of UTOPIA officials and other fiber-loving fanatics is no excuse for putting taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sometimes, the best way forward is to reverse course and return to safer ground. Municipal governments throughout Utah should resist the urge to make such commitments to experimental projects, and where such burdens already exist, those who would layer more debt onto city residents should be removed from office—just as those with an addiction to spending should have their line of credit terminated and their credit cards shredded.

UTOPIA is not too big, too important, or too integrated to fail. If it cannot operate with existing capital already provided to it by two rounds of bonds, then it should be sold off to the highest bidder. The “best way forward” is painstakingly clear: do what is right, let the consequences follow. Even if that means not having any fiber access for the foreseeable future.

39 Responses to “Utah’s UTOPIA is Anything But”

  1. Josh Gardner
    June 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    I definitely say UTOPIA should be liquidated, member cities should cut their losses, and the existing infrastructure sold. This experiment in socialism, which on the face of it is no different than socialized roadways, has shown itself to be an abject failure, just like roads. About two years ago UTOPIA laid fiber optic cable here in Perry, and built a hub station in the main city park. Since then there’s been nothing. Parts of town still can’t get Comcast cable or Qwest DSL. I’d like to see UTOPIA’s existing infrastructure sold to maybe Google Fiber, or perhaps a local ISP like Xmission.com.

    Enough with the socialism (or, in the case of UTOPIA, which is a private corporation, fascism) already!

  2. SpecKK
    June 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    While multiple bond rounds and seeking for Federal handouts have resulted in a public utility that is significantly less effective than Trax, selling UTOPIA at a significant loss is not a good solution either.

    If it’s time to admit failure and move on, at least Provo’s solution is better. The iProvo network was never particularly well run, but when the truth about subscriber uptake being too low came out, rather than blow the investment and let some foreign fatcat benefit at the public’s expense, Provo penned a Rent-to-Own-Agreement with a local Telcom provider (An insufficiently vetted agreement with a dubious provider, but not a scorched earth pennies on the dollar sell-out). Unlike the expensive, buggy equipment (which should have been commodity equipment rented by subscribers and installed at the rate of demand), the fiber, fiber runs and right of ways all have significant long term value.

    It should be noted that the failure of public networks has to do with duo/monopoly interference, natural monopolies, marketing, regulation and demand. I don’t think any of these issues have been addressed here, but they all have merit and need to be discussed to figure out UTOPIA’s true value. Sure, the experiment has failed, we’ve run out of money and patience, and it’s time to put our foot down on any significant future investment, but the way forward should be measured and maximize public value given the existing public outlay.

  3. Ben
    June 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm #

    I’m a utopia subscriber in Murray. I absolutely love the service, 50mbps up and down for a reasonable price. I love it to death, but have to admit the whole thing has been completely mismanaged.

    My parents who live about a mile away in Murray have been saddled with the same potential-debt as I have, but Utopia has never bothered to run lines to their part of Murray. Seems the company is always asking and never delivering. Not sure how they can ever attract new subscribers if they aren’t willing to deliver the opportunity to those who want it.

    Its hard to say “it should never have been done” when that is a vote against my super-fast, super-stable, super-flexible, relatively cheap connection (with xmission as the ISP), but it should never have been done. Throwing public money at a problem just encourages waste.

  4. Jesse Harris
    June 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    You knew I would have to respond. There are a couple of factual errors I’ve got to address before anything else, though.

    First, UTOPIA is not a company. They are an interlocal agency similar to a sewer or water district. Calling them a company implies market favoritism for a private entity. Any private entity doing business with UTOPIA is on equal ground and market incumbents such as Qwest, Comcast, and Frontier have a standing invitation to use UTOPIA transport instead of their own outdated copper or coax plants.

    Second, the Rural Utility Service operates both loan and grant programs. UTOPIA had been participating in the loan program and was required to pay back the money. The second round of bonding covered paying off loans from RUS when they decided to stop providing authorized reimbursements without warning or notice. The cities are preparing a lawsuit against RUS for failing to fulfill their portion of the loan agreement. It’s not the “free money” you characterize it to be.

    With that out of the way…

    What I find most disappointing in your article is that you both fail to acknowledge the sad state of the anti-competitive telecommunications industry (complete with much more reprehensible government favoritism at the federal, state, and local levels) or provide any kind of concrete, viable alternative to local communities taking matters into their own hands. These failures are, unfortunately, almost expected when there is criticism leveled at municipal efforts to correct the failed and bungled policies of the FCC and PSC. I really was expecting better from you and I hope you will tackle those intertwined issues in a future post.

    I would ask you the same question I ask all other local government libertarians: what exactly are the limits on municipal authority? What makes roads, arguably a subsidy for the automobile industry, an acceptable common infrastructure whereas a wholesale telecommunications system is not? At what point can people no longer gather together and exercise their right to define “good” for their own city? Following most libertarian arguments at a city government level to their logical conclusion (no more public libraries, parks, fire departments, etc.) and forcing everyone to conform to them is just another form of tyranny, no longer letting people exercise their right to free association and depriving them of the most precious and underutilized box of freedom in our republic, the moving box.

    I don’t begrudge anyone the right to want to live in a community that doesn’t have a municipal telecommunications system. By that same token, I expect to be given the right to choose to live in such a community should I so desire. For every person who wants to move away from a UTOPIA city, there is someone like me who would gladly take their place.

  5. Doran Barton
    June 1, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    I’m a long-time supporter of UTOPIA despite being fairly libertarian and fiscally conservative. I attended some of the early working technology meetings, various city council meetings, and publicly opposed state legislation designed to impede UTOPIA.

    On paper, UTOPIA is an awesome forward-thinking piece of infrastructure that every resident and company should strive to participate in. In reality, it is a boondoggle. Why? Well, it’s not all the cities’ or UTOPIA’s fault. In some regards, failure was in the cards because UTOPIA had to deal with Qwest and Comcast, both of which already have established stakes in the telecommunications market. These two monopolies threw up legal and logistical roadblock after roadblock. This drained capital from the first round of municipal funding and significantly slowed down deployment. Folks at Qwest and Comcast may have chalked up some wins for those moves, but ultimately, they committed a grievous crime against the Utah taxpayer by causing waste of committed taxpayer dollars.

    Dynamic City, the original managing company of the UTOPIA project, was also responsible for some bad decisions. It’s my understanding they contracted some of the initial build-out work to a company that over-billed the project, causing further waste. Somewhere along the way, they decided that because buildout in West Valley City and Murray were going along slower than projected (thank you Qwest and Comcast), they should go after federal grant money for rural infrastructure projects and ramp up deployment in Brigham City, Tremonton, and Centerville. Going after federal monies is not good policy, in my opinion. That move reeks of a lack of confidence in the project’s viability and exhibits a gross misunderstanding of the proper role of the federal government.

    So, here we are. UTOPIA, as a concept, still holds a tremendous amount of merit. In the beginning, Qwest and Comcast tried to convince city councilpeople that UTOPIA’s use of fiberoptics was doomed to fail because fiber was “old technology.” Now Qwest and Comcast have upgraded their infrastructure to fiber and are touting its virtues as they hawk their latest offerings to customers.

    UTOPIA is “morally superior” to what Qwest and Comcast offer because it’s open. Any service provider, even good ole’ Qwest or Comcast, can participate on UTOPIA’s infrastructure. The downside for traditional monopolies is that they would not be able to force-feed their customers the same old crap for a higher price. Customers on UTOPIA can choose providers for video (TV), data (Internet), voice (telephone), and other services. It’s a win-win for customers because they get choices and participating providers have to compete for customers, something somewhat absent from the current landscape of telecommunications infrastructure.

    I’ve often compared UTOPIA to an airport. Many airports are owned by municipal entities. Airlines and other service providers use the facilities provided to provide services to their customers. Airlines don’t have the capital, know-how, or resources to build their own airports. If they did, imagine the situation air travelers would be in! Delta, for example, would be able to charge higher prices for lower-quality service if they were the only airline servicing the Salt Lake City area. (Just like Qwest does now for DSL!)

    Because of municipality ownership of airports, many airlines can compete and participate in a local market. In fact, municipality-owned airports make it easier for new airlines to enter the market by removing barriers to entry.

    So… what now for UTOPIA? I agree with SpecKK that private management is probably key to UTOPIA’s future success. Whether that comes from Google or another company doesn’t matter. I also think education is vital. The Utah Taxpayers Association, for example, has demonstrated time and time again, an incredible amount of ignorance with regard to UTOPIA.

  6. Jesse Harris
    June 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    One more factual problem I forgot to point out: UTOPIA has never blamed “the economy” for their problems after the second round of financing. The actual explanation is much more complex but has been reduced to a sound bite by the news media. (If you care to know what it is, read on.)

    When UTOPIA sought to secure a bond under the second round, they could only secure a variable-rate one. As a hedge against interest rate volatility, they purchased a similar bond paying them a slightly lower interest rate. Never in the recorded decades of history of both of these bond types has the variance between their rates exceeded 50 basis points. What happened after that is that the interest rate on the bond they had to pay increased sharply… but the bond they were collecting on did not. It was truly an unprecedented event that pulled the carpet out from underneath them.

  7. Clumpy
    June 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    I like the conversation here, I’d just like to say. It’s pretty enlightening from both ends. The truth of the matter seems to be more subtle than seems at first, particularly because fast, reliable online access is quickly becoming a way of allowing people to take part in society (the “human right” thing may not be far off). If this has to be done, I’d rather see it considered a public good and opened to various ISPs for competition than see the type of boondoggle which results in a few providers tearing up redundant sections of land to lay cables.

    And Josh, were you being ironic earlier in calling roads spending an abject failure? Infrastructure spending, despite the absolutely massive planning and investment required, has been less than something like 3.0% of our GDP for decades. In terms of benefit to cost ratio I’d put roads a heckuva lot higher than national defense, which I believe costs nearly twice as much. Throwing out a line like “abject failure” is pretty shocking unless your actual intent is to shock or you’ve got some statistics to share with the gang :).

  8. Jeffrey T
    June 1, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    I agree with your post. I do think, though, there is swivel room in libertarian thought for publicly-funded infrastructure like roads, power lines, sewers, etc. I personally would love to try an experiment in privatizing these things… but I certainly admit that one can be a libertarian and still embrace these things. The challenge is when/how/if to admit a new infrastructure to the list (telecommunications, for example).

    In some ways, this is the challenge many Republicans face: they are against publicly funded/mandated healthcare, but are usually in favor of publicly funded/mandated education. The same principles they cite against publicly funded healthcare would also forbid publicly funded education. If one believes in publicly funded education, then the matter is simply if/when/how to add new services to the list (aka, healtcare).

    So the question is, upon what principle are some publicly funded infrastructure projects (roads, sewers) morally acceptable, and others not (telecommunications)?

    I’d ask the same question for public education and healthcare… but the answer is simply that neither are morally acceptable. Is the same true of infrastructure?

  9. Darcy
    June 2, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    Thanks for sharing Connor! I live in Layton and this effects me! If people oppose this, they must show up to their city council meetings the third week of June and voice opposition!

  10. Eric Checketts
    June 2, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Government was not meant to, nor should it, provide goods and services.

    Gov’t has become the pesky boy scout who is determined to help the old lady cross the road, whether she likes it or not.

    I just want all levels of gov’t to stop trying to provide for every need and protect from every risk.

  11. rmwarnick
    June 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    I’m glad UTOPIA is there to provide an alternative to the Comcast and Qwest monopolies. Fiber-optic connections offer consumers a wide choice of providers for television, Internet and phone service, and it’s easy to switch providers.

    If you believe in competition and the free market, then UTOPIA deserves your support. If you like corporate monopolies, then you can back the underhanded efforts of Comcast and Qwest to sabotage UTOPIA.

  12. Edward
    June 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    My dilemma in deciding where I stand on this is such: Our current telecom system gives too much control to the companies that own the infrastructure. They only own all of the infrastructure due to government concessions. A new cable company simply cannot come in and compete with Comcast.

    I’m not affected by Utopia, but what IS the ideal system? Any thoughts Connor? I’ve kind of figured that a practical libertarian system would be to have infrastructure (sewer, power, and even telecommunication lines) be publicly owned on a per-city, per state basis, but ALL construction, maintenance, and expansion be contracted out to private companies that must bid and renew their contracts on a regular basis.

  13. Robert Oscanyan
    June 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    “At what point can people no longer gather together and exercise their right to define “good” for their own city?” – Jesse Harris

    The problem with defining “good” is that everyone has a different definition of it. Your arguments sound reasonable at first, Jesse, but they ignore the fact that everyone has their own needs and wants in varying degrees.

    I find it fitting that Utopia isn’t going how people planned it to be because a real utopia is similarly flawed. Since everyone has their own opinion about what a utopia would be, someone’s utopia has to win out in the end and often it culminates in forcing or using the threat of force to get others to comply with it.

    The argument for Utopia is politically utilitarian in nature. In other words, because something like fiberoptic internet is good for one person and satisfies his/her needs that person thinks that everyone wants it. I’m sure there are many elderly folks and people who don’t need the speed offered by fiberoptic who would disagree with that person. And yet, people support taking the money of those who don’t want a service and dedicating it towards their own ventures.

    If people want fiberoptic internet, so be it. But morally speaking, we ought not to force our neighbors to help pay for it. To me, the good of not stealing from your neighbor that would fund private interests outweighs the “good” of being able to watch Netflix in high quality.

  14. Jesse Harris
    June 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    Your arguments sound reasonable at first, Jesse, but they ignore the fact that everyone has their own needs and wants in varying degrees.

    No, they fully acknowledge it. Want a minarchist local government? Find people of the same mindset and move with them into the same city. Nobody forces you to live in a particular place. I say use your right of free association to move into a city that executes the kind of government you want instead of expecting it to be the same wherever you feel like geographically locating yourself.

    And no, I don’t want UTOPIA for Netflix streaming. I want it so my telecommuting experience is better, so I don’t have to pay for hosting, and so my Vonage line won’t cut in and out when there’s too much network activity. Kind of important purposes.

  15. Jim Davis
    June 3, 2010 at 6:27 am #

    I believe that people should only delegate to government the powers which they, themselves, would properly have in the absence of any governmental form. If I don’t have the proper authority to take someone else’s money to provide faster internet service than I shouldn’t feel it’s ok to delegate that authority to government. If 6 out of 10 of us vote for tax-payer funded bonds it still doesn’t make it right for 6 people to force the other 4 to pay for something they don’t want any part of in the first place.

    It makes more logical and ethical sense to leave things like this to the private sector. Private investors voluntarily carry the risk. When government uses taxes to fund bonds they’re forcing many, involuntarily, to carry the financial risk. That is not just. That is not right.

  16. Jesse Harris
    June 3, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    Jim: By your logic, money for roads, police, and courts would be considered theft if you didn’t approve of them. I’m not buying it.

  17. Jim Davis
    June 3, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    Taxes being used for a police force and courts benefits everyone. Taxes being used to improve your internet connection does not.

  18. Jesse Harris
    June 3, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Jim: Again, bad logic. You could argue that “free” health care for all benefits everyone, so it’s okay.

  19. barney
    June 3, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    fiber infrastructure that enables advanced 911, public safety, emergency preparedness, security, smartgrid, tele-medicine, (in addition the the recreational benefits), etc actually benefits everyone. thinking of fiber as speeding up hulu is like saying electricity is only used to provide light to dark rooms. its time to look past the obvious.

  20. Jim Davis
    June 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    “Free” health-care for all is not a right nor is it truly beneficial. Government has no moral authority to force doctors or other health-care providers to provide any form of service. I believe that government should exist exclusively as a negative force- to be a defense mechanism, protecting each individual equally—their life, property, and peaceful free exercise of conscience. I do not believe government should be a positive force- granting special rights/privileges for particular groups/individuals. When government becomes a positive force individual rights and property will inevitably be infringed.

    If you’re such an advocate for UTOPIA then by all means use your own money to enhance their cause…But do you honestly consider it ethical to force (directly or indirectly) other people to pay for something that they don’t want?

  21. Eric Checketts
    June 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    I would like to “second” the comments of Jim Davis…

  22. Jesse Harris
    June 3, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    Jim: So if I accept your definition of “government”, that means it is morally reprehensible for a city to operate a sewer or water system, run snow plows, or provide garbage pickup? Sorry, but the overwhelming majority of us don’t follow your logical extreme. And that’s okay. We’ll live in our cities, you live in yours. What’s so bad about that?

    And I would also note that this latest funding request is doing exact what you want. It is designed to shift the burden of supporting the network from the cities as a whole and onto the subscribers. What’s bad about that?

  23. Clumpy
    June 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Jim, I think that your model of government is kind of inconsistent. When a flashlight is shined on one area of your argument you shift to another theoretical rather than address the dissonance. If I really felt that you had an internally-consistent framework for government (one which allows you to support the public services you do and reject those which you don’t) I could definitely respect that, though accepting some services while using a general anti-public services argument when arguing against others isn’t really a workable philosophy.

  24. Jim Davis
    June 3, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    A person shouldn’t be expected to move whenever their government is abusing its proper role. (Granted, everyone’s idea of what “the proper role of government” ought to be is different.) In my opinion, the idea that a majority can rightfully subject a minority is tyrannical in nature. I advocate for a limited republic-style government which safe-guards every individual’s natural rights (which includes what I listed in comment 20), regardless of what 51% of the people say. I understand that what I’ve said probably appears extreme to most but what’s more extreme- legal plunder or voluntarism?

    Thanks for your comment Clumpy. I assure you I wasn’t trying to dodge any questions but I was trying to clarify my comment of government being beneficial to all by getting more fundamental. What I’m advocating, as far as government services, are any which are necessary for it to accomplish its defensive purposes and at the same time truly benefit all who are paying into it. Some of these services include courts, an adequate police force and military. I admit that a limited force is required for these services to exist but I believe that force is justified when it is used to protect everyone’s right to life, liberty, and property, not to provide convenient services or engage in speculative investments. So yes, in principle I am opposed to many of the government ran services that have been listed in that they aren’t defensive in nature and/or because they don’t benefit everyone who’s been forced to pay for them.

    And speaking of shifting arguments, just to be fair, I keep repeating the issue of force which still hasn’t been addressed.

  25. Jesse Harris
    June 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    If you choose to live in a city, you choose to be subject to its decisions and jurisdictions. Nobody forces you to live in a particular city and I wish more people were carefully evaluating where they live. (If they did, Sandy would be a ghost town by now.) Moving into a city is, in effect, endorsement of their services and policies.

    So tell me this: why should your desire for a minarchist government override my desire for a city that actually bothers to provide services that I and most of my neighbors want? Or, why is your tyranny of the minority better than my tyranny of the majority? Riddle me that, Batman.

  26. Jim Davis
    June 3, 2010 at 11:12 pm #

    A minarchist-style republic protects everyone equally- including minorities. It is not the rule of the minority but rather the rule of law (natural rights being protected by law). That’s not tyrannical. Watch this video to better understand the benefits of a republic and the dangers of a democracy.

    Also, you’re right that since I choose to live in a certain city that I am subject to its decisions. I play by the rules even though I don’t agree with many of them. What I’m advocating is that these rules respect natural rights. But addressing the choice of where to live wasn’t answering the question of force that I asked. I’ll ask again:

    Do you consider it ethical to force (directly or indirectly) other people to pay for UTOPIA?

  27. Jesse Harris
    June 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    Yes, I do, just the same as it is ethical to expect them to pay for roads they don’t use or an airport they don’t use. Just because you don’t directly use it doesn’t mean you don’t benefit. And as I stated previously, UTOPIA’s new plan is to move the burden away from cities as a whole and onto subscribers.

  28. Clumpy
    June 4, 2010 at 11:59 am #


    I do agree that conceptually something like broadband access “feels” different to me than something like sanitation or running water. I don’t necessarily think that it’s in a hard-and-fast separate category though, or that it’s necessarily more “constitutional” to support one and not the other. That’s the framework I feel is lacking but you clearly have an overriding personal philosophy at the very least. I have to believe the natural rights argument to be a mostly empty-philosophy and, very often, an excuse to avoid further analysis of one’s beliefs, but I can respect your minarchism, essentially a form of comparatively light libertarianism which tries to remove government coercion from the picture at the expense of opening things to the private sector for better or worse.

  29. Lio
    June 6, 2010 at 4:53 am #

    Well, then what is the answer to who shall provide “services” like water, sewage, etc? This is one that I struggle with…if we as a people want these so called services don’t we ask the government (whether municipial, federal, etc.) to provide them for us? Maybe it’s not a question of who should do what but what is right….I don’t know exactly. Is it right for government to provide these services for us? Or is there a better way at providing these “basic” needs without the help of government at all? Where does the buck stop when it comes to providing the needs of the people? The mayor? The Govenor? Who is responsible to have these “needs” met? If it is The People…well, how are we suppose to do that?

    I second Jim’s comments. I am for limited government as well. Yet, I am confused at times at how much limit should the government have? Does it stop at defence? Or does it stop at making roads, water lines, etc.? I really have no idea but I would really apprecite any insights.

    Long live the Republic. May we always be worthy of it’s blessings.

  30. Doran Barton
    June 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    Again, it’s important to go back to what UTOPIA is and is not. The UTOPIA project’s goals are not to provide users with Internet, telephone, and television services. It is not “socialism” in that UTOPIA does not compete with private providers of those services. Instead, it is the common infrastructure on which PRIVATE COMPANIES may provide Internet, telephone, and television services (and much more).

    As for services like water, sewage, natural gas, etc., none of these are like UTOPIA at all. If municipalities installed gas lines and then gave residents the option of choosing who they wanted to purchase their natural gas from, that would be analogous to what UTOPIA does.

  31. Clumpy
    June 6, 2010 at 2:42 pm #


    Well some people clearly believe that in the absence of governmental services, private interests would descend and gloriously use the principles of the free market to provide a better, cheaper solution (provided that there are no federal regulations of course; that would be awful). And all of those without the influence or dinero to finagle quality service for themselves after the glorious corporate revolution fixes everything will just have to accept the fact that they live in a new Utopia and exercise their “natural rights” to live in inferior conditions.

    Ok, no more posting after taking naps on a Sunday. It makes me grumpy and confrontational. My basic point might have been that national businesses don’t compete – they monopolize – and people who argue minarchism are essentially applying Adam Smith-like principles of nimble competition and interlocking self-interest to a level where they simply don’t apply – national and international conglomerates. The government at least provides some semblance of equity in providing public services.

  32. Bill
    June 6, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    right on, Connor. Fiberoptic cable access is not vital to a community like sewage or water. If this company has a viable business plan then let them raise the money privately to finance it and generate their profits afterward.

  33. Jim Davis
    June 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm #


    Don’t mind Clumpy. He comes here with an attitude of arrogance and sarcasm, repeatedly blowing his cyber whistle, hardly adding anything constructive, but rather he attempts to slap people around with his pseudo-intellectual arguments…

    At least that’s what I thought until a month ago. I brought Clumpy’s name up to Connor while we were talking about people who contribute garbage to this blog- that’s when Connor corrected me by saying that in real life Clumpy is actually a way nice guy.

    (And then last week he verbally assaulted an old woman for her writing style. He apologized for it though. :p)

  34. Lio
    June 7, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    Um…thanks? But, I don’t really feel like I’m any closer to an answer. Are there any books about this topic?

    Cheers mates!

  35. Jim Davis
    June 7, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    The Law, by Frederic Bastiat, addresses many of these issues in a fundamental way.

  36. Robert Oscanyan
    June 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Seriously. Please read The Law. It is perhaps one of the best books to read regarding government. I knew it felt wrong to support things like what UTOPIA is but I never knew how to best make sense of it in my mind.

    This book is so good that I actually keep the audio version of it on my iPod so that I can listen to it while I mow my lawn. Bastiat’s Economic Harmonies is also a great read.

    Simply put, it helps to identify how supporting UTOPIA is just stupid greed and/or false philanthropy.

  37. Robert Oscanyan
    June 7, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Not to sound offending, the terms “stupid greed” and “false philanthropy” are Bastiat’s words not mine as is the term “legal plunder”.

  38. Doran Barton
    June 7, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    I never thought *I* would be the one to say this, but Bastiat’s writings are excellent theory, but don’t apply quite as well as we’d like in practice. There HAS to be a certain amount of “planning” done by the government. Frederick A. Hayek addresses this in his writings (see “The Road To Serfdom”). Now before y’all up and call me a socialist (again), read Hayek. In his writings about the evils of central planning, a la totalitarian socialism, he concedes that a certain amount of planning is inevitable and that the government is the natural place for fulfilling that role. What I got out of his writing was that the best planning done by the government is closest to the people – at the municipality, county, and state levels before the federal level. There are plenty of good reasons for this, the most obvious to me is “accountability.”

    The fury over the financial struggles of UTOPIA are a perfect example of this. Can you imagine if something like UTOPIA had been embarked by the state, by the federal government? Can you imagine how much WORSE things could be?! And what difference could your voices make? Not much.

  39. Carl Youngblood
    July 1, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    This post has inspired the most thoughtful conversation I’ve seen yet on Connor’s blog, mostly due to the contributions of Jesse and Doran, two smart guys who do their homework.

    Connor, you haven’t responded to any of the critiques that I believe Jesse fairly brings up. Why not?

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