If you are a Burlington, Vermont citizen and support Burlington Telecom then please come to the special City Council meeting on Thursday (2/11) where they will discuss the report from the Burlington Telecom Blue Ribbon Committee. The meeting will start at 6pm in the Contois Auditorium at Burlington City Hall. You can follow an ongoing discussion of this issue on Twitter using the hashtag #isupportbt_vt.
Here in the city of Burlington, Vermont (where I live and work) I am proud of the fact that we have a municipally-owned, state-of-the-art fiber-optic telecommunications network. Municipal control over the network, Burlington Telecom, helps keep its goals aligned with the interests of Burlington’s citizens.
Burlington Telecom is currently experiencing some financial troubles. The City Council has formed a Blue Ribbon Committee to assess the viability of Burlington Telecom. The committee’s official report is due out today. Tomorrow (Thursday, 2/11) the City Council will discuss this report.
The scope of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s assignment and the City Council’s thinking seems too limited. They seem focused on the short term financial sustainability of Burlington Telecom rather than the long term benefits (which are many) of owning our own telecommunications infrastructure. A recent Ars Technica article on why municipal fiber needs more FDR localism and fewer state bans quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt as saying:
I therefore lay down the following principle: That where a community—a city or county or a district—is not satisfied with the service rendered or the rates charged by the private utility, it has the undeniable basic right, as one of its functions of Government, one of its functions of home rule, to set up, after a fair referendum to its voters has been had, its own governmentally owned and operated service.
Other telecommunications options in this city include Comcast and FairPoint. Comcast is not interested in creating an open network that can be used equally by all. Comcast, a telecom provider, is in the process of buying a controlling stake in a content producer, NBC Universal. This is bad news for advocates (like myself) of network neutrality. FairPoint just filed bankruptcy plans. They do not have the resources to create the infrastructure that our city needs in the 21st century. This is why Burlington Telecom was created.
Locally owned businesses give more to the community, spend more money in the community, and are far more likely to stay in the community. Verizon left us when they sold their Vermont network to FairPoint. Comcast is a massive corporation with little interest in our small city. Locally run and municipally-owned telecommunications will serve us much better than the alternatives.
The options being discussed revolve around selling off Burlington Telecom, either in part or in whole. If we decide to sell off Burlington Telecom to private equity we will look back in 10, 20, or 30 years and regret that we off-loaded such a great resource to private interests. If we keep it, the current financial issues will look insignificant in comparison to the revenue that Burlington Telecom will generate and the opportunities of having a municipally-owned open network will create.
I hope that Burlington citizens and City Council can put their heads together and come up with a solution that allows Burlington Telecom to continue to be owned by the citizens of Burlington. Several ideas have surfaced from the #isupportbt_vt conversation on Twitter including:
- invite other providers to compete using Burlington Telecom’s infrastructure;
- convert Burlington Telecom into a cooperative; and
- have a referendum asking Burlington voters if they want to fund Burlington Telecom.
Have other suggestions? Please come to Thursday night’s meeting so that you can share your ideas with the City Council.