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Burlington Telecom sale could ease taxpayer headache

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The fate of Burlington Telecom is in the hands of Vermont's Public Service Board (PSB), which is mulling a city-backed proposal to sell off the publicly owned company's assets to a private investor.

That proposal came up because the publicly owned telco's debt was a burden to taxpayers.

The telco's problems began in 2008 when it took nearly 17 million taxpayer dollars as it sought a way to add cable TV to its service. It's also being sued by Citibank, which wants more than $30 million in money that it said it lent the telco.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger thinks he's come up with a solution: settle with Citibank for $6 million gained through an interim financing deal with local businessman Trey Pecor and then sell the telephone company to a private investor. That deal needs the PSB's blessing because it nullifies a state provision that says municipal cable television, Internet and telephony utilities must provide citywide service.

"Telecom, Internet and video present unusual dynamics where business practices are constantly subjected to disruptive forces from changes in technology, market demands and mergers and acquisitions," Weinberger wrote to the board in advance of a public hearing on the matter. "Exposing further taxpayer funds to speculation in this marketplace is simply not prudent."

It's not that the company is not succeeding; it hit an all-time high of 4,579 subscribers in January of this year, according to telecom interim general manager Stephen Barraclough.

The carrier's fiber optic passes within 300 feet of about 82 percent of potential customers on city rights-of-way and it isn't an entirely unwelcome part of the community, residents said at the hearing.

"I'm very glad to pay for Burlington Telecom," said resident Janet Patterson, according to a WCAX.com story.

Another resident, Dean Corren, said he supported the sale because "stakeholders are every single taxpayer in the city of Burlington."

The PSB said it had no timetable for ruling on the proposal.

For more:
- see this Burlington Free Press story
- WCAX.com has this story

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