Monday, December 1, 2014

Re-Imagining Burlington: on the air, on the record

Here is a post-Thanksgiving phone interview on Burlington and the mayoral race: 30 minutes on the air -- political parties, Progressive mistakes, Mayor Weinberger's priorities, redevelopment choices, affordability, climate change, keeping BT as a public utility, and protecting open government at a time of rapid change. Aired 11/28, 11:30 a.m. on The Howie Rose Variety Show, WOMM-FM, 105.9 in Burlington and live streaming. 

Statement on the future of Burlington Telecom, presented at the 11/17 City Council meeting: Good evening. I've lived in Burlington for about 40 years and am currently a member of the BT Cable Advisory Council. The plan for BT to become an enterprise with a commission sounds like common sense. But in my view, as it stands the current proposal for sale would reduce, not enhance, the prospects for recouping most of the $17 million spent to date. In fact, Burlington could end up with very little --  no public stake or influence and about the same amount of money as the current managers.

What will the city get? No more that 25 percent of what has been invested, it appears, probably much less. To get all of the money back BT would have to be sold again for something like $70 million, which is, let's say, unlikely.

In short, the current plan won't help the city recoup most of its investment -- unless there are clear criteria for a future owner or partner. Otherwise, a public asset with great potential for future growth will become totally private.

I think we can improve on the current proposal. How? By establishing ownership standards and putting more administration support behind what is already in motion -- the development of a non-profit entity to buy BT. Not only is this the way to insure long term local control, it's also more likely to help repay the city.... Because a non-profit or a coop can use future revenues to pay back Burlington rather than generating profits for an outside owner.

What's not being stressed is that BT's financial picture has improved substantially in recent years. In September, for example, its revenues were $637,000, with a surplus of $74,000 before the debt payment. And let's not forget why this network was created in the first place -- for long term economic development and to create real competition and choice.

This is still a very young asset -- less than a decade old. In its first 30 years of operation, the Burlington airport received about $100 million in transfers from the general fund.* As infrastructure, BT is just as important today and, if we hold onto it, it can provide long term benefits, better service and more choices for businesses and thousands of residents - but only if we look beyond short-term relief, resist the push to privatize, and preserve this invaluable public asset for future generations.
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