The case for municipal telecoms

Burlington Telecom is a municipally owned telecom featuring cutting-edge services. It offers a variety of triple play offerings, high def TV, VOD, DVRs and a citywide fiber optic network that’s top notch. It’s also been at the center of a firestorm concerning its decision last month to drop the Al-Jazeera English network, which it’s carried since December 2006.

The manner is which the telecom handled the brouhaha is an example of how smaller providers often can have an edge when it comes to understanding the needs and wants of local subscribers.

This week, two of the city’s telecom oversight committees—after a pair of heavily attended public hearings—voted unanimously that BT should continue to carry the network.

In typical Green Mountain stoic fashion, one Vermonter said: “I cut my teeth on (Sen. Joseph) McCarthy," he said. "I don't like to see those who think the Constitution is only for themselves (to use to) prohibit the rest of us from hearing a full variety of political (views)."

Burlington mayor Bob Kiss said the dominant opinion he heard from the forums was that "if they didn't want to watch it, they could turn it off.” And, by association, if they wanted to watch it, they could.

There’s a little bigger battle going on in my neck of the woods, Michigan, where the issue isn’t free speech or political views, but football. Specifically, Charter Communication’s inability or unwillingness to cut a deal with the Big Ten Network, which carries all the games not on broadcast TV. What’s the big deal? Well, to the folks in the eight state Big Ten footprint whose cable option is Charter, it means looking hard at satellite provider DirectTV, AT&T’s U-verse, or, in rare cases, switching to Comcast—which just made a deal with BTN—if it’s available.

And, trust me on this one, that’s all I’ve been hearing for the past year that BTN hasn’t been available to cable customers. Last fall, there were chainsaws screaming all over this area as homeowners looked to clear a path for that new satellite dish. Big Ten football, especially Michigan football here, is what it’s all about.

If Charter listened to their customers, they might know that. --Jim