Friday, May 22, 2015

The double standard of fitness as a utility in Utah

Having a membership at a fitness center is considered a luxury. The odd thing is, Salt Lake County has a network of fitness centers. I know, I finally went to one so that we can provide some recreation for my kids. I was blown away by what I saw.

For a very reasonable fee, my entire family gets access to everything: gym, pools, table tennis, classes and God knows what else. I haven't been able to see everything since our focus lately has been to introduce my oldest daughter to the pool. She's had a blast in the pool, splashing in the water, playing in the fountains, riding the slides (all with Daddy within arms reach) and wading in the pool with Mom and Dad.

Membership options in Salt Lake County provide for one or all, and even for access to every fitness center, the pricing is very reasonable. They're probably not as good as privately run fitness centers, but they are good enough. They're not exclusive like some fitness centers, but if you want to appeal to the middle class, you can't be exclusive. Besides, they're partially funded by taxes we all pay here in the county.

Fitness as a public utility competes with private fitness clubs. Yet, there are still plenty of fitness centers here like Gold's Gym, 24 Hour Fitness and get this, there is a place called Gym Jones. How ironic.

I live in a Red State so it would seem that conservatives would scream "bloody socialist" if someone were to even suggest that public fitness centers should exist in Utah. But here, where it's pretty cold for half the year, they take their health and fitness very seriously. Someone in power here knows that not everyone can afford to buy their own fitness equipment or a membership at some exclusive club. So making fitness a public utility provides greater access to exercise at an affordable price to all. This is a fantastic arrangement for everyone concerned and I take part by signing up and showing up with my family.

Fitness as a utility in Utah is not just ironic, it demonstrates a double standard. Utah is mostly rural and people can have a hard time getting broadband where they live. There is a public utility for internet access. It's called Utopia, short for the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency. The promise of Utopia was to provide high speed internet access to every home and every business in the service area - but that promise wasn't kept by the lawmakers of Utah.

Instead of being allowed to thrive, Utopia was attacked by politicians and private enterprise alike. Spokesmen for Comcast and Centurylink go on and on about how government should not provide access to the internet. Legacy incumbent providers that use copper for transmission backed legislation written by ALEC to hobble or prohibit public internet access service in this state. That service is collectively known as municipal broadband.

At the same time, those same companies profit from a business model based on scarcity and, at least in my neighborhood, they don't compete directly, probably by tacit agreement not to. Every month or so, I read another story about terrible customer service by companies like Comcast and ATT.

In the last week, I've read at least two stories about homeowners who telecommute to work but could not get wired service from incumbent providers. They were so unhappy with the situation, that they each started their own initiatives for municipal broadband. But that can't happen here in Utah. Municipal broadband is mostly prohibit since Utah conservatives like to cheer private enterprise while intervening in the market in favor of private enterprise.

If government can build a network of fitness centers when the need arises, then surely they can build a public internet service. The need arises when incumbents are too busy managing a business based on scarcity to ensure profits at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve. That seems like a betrayal of the public trust to me.
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