CENTERVILLE - If Centerville does decide to make UTOPIA a utility fee like water or recycling, a lot of residents may end up with cheaper Internet service.
Though no decision has been made by either Centerville or other member cities, the utility fee plan proposed by Macquarie would provide all participating citizens with Internet service at no additional cost. That would mean residents’ UTOPIA utility fees, which are expected to amount to between $18 and $20, would also serve as their entire bills for basic Internet service.
“If you pay the utility fee, you wouldn’t have to pay another dime,” said Centerville City Assistant Manager Blaine Lutz. “A service provider would have to come in and hook you up. You wouldn’t have to pay anything else.”
Average prices for basic Internet service through other providers range between $35 and $40. Service providers currently attached to the network said they would likely also offer unlimited phone service for an additional $5 to $7.
“We had several of them sitting by each other at the meeting,” he said. “They know they need to stay competitive.”
Lutz emphasizes, however, that the city is far from making a decision on whether to go with the utility fee model, which was proposed by the Australian business Macquarie as part of a proposed partnership deal with the UTOPIA network. That deal has only just finished the research phase and has not yet been officially agreed upon by all participating parties.
As such, few details have been ironed out.
“It’s only milestone one,” said Lutz. “We’re still trying to get our arms around this. In milestone two, we can get some of these specifics down a little tighter.”
If the city does eventually decide to go with the utility fee plan, however, it would be treated in the same way as the city’s current utility fees. Centerville bundles its utility fees, and it’s city policy that the money goes to pay water utility fees last. If a resident pays less than their total bill, it’s their water account that goes unpaid. If it remains unpaid, that person’s water service is cut off.
“It comes from what we’ve already established,” said Lutz. “If a utility fee is implemented, you have to be able to do some kind of collection.”
That policy is the source of some confusion over a comment made by Centerville Mayor Paul Cutler at a recent city meeting. If the city does decide to implement UTOPIA as a utility fee, it would be treated in the same way drainage fees currently are. If a resident doesn’t pay their storm drain fees, their water would be cut off because the lack would show up in that account. The same would be true for UTOPIA fees.
“We haven’t made any decisions yet, but we were trying to get people to understand the method we would be using,” said Lutz. “We could have spent 45 minutes on the legalese, but we were trying to boil it down to English.”
Though there has been talk of creating an opt-out option if the city decides to implement the fee, Lutz pointed out that many residents have to pay utility fees no matter how much they benefit.
“Does someone in a low-lying area get more benefit out of drainage than other people?” he asked. “Absolutely. Does everyone pay the same, no matter how much benefit they get? Yes.”