Burlington Telecom buyer down to Ting, Keep BT Local

BURLINGTON — The Burlington Telecom bidding process continued at an open City Council meeting Monday night, leaving two suitors standing to purchase the troubled municipal fiber-optics telecommunications network.

CITY HALL SHOWDOWN: Two bidders remain in the process of buying Burlington Telecom, the city’s troubled municipal telecom operation.

Ting/Tucows, a Canadian-U.S. mobile virtual-network operator and internet service provider, and Keep BT Local (KBTL), a cooperative formed by Burlington taxpayers, are the final two bidders.

Six city councilors voted for KBTL while five voted for Ting/Tucows. Only Councilor Kurt Wright, R-Ward 4, cast a vote for high bidder Schurz Communications, now out of the running.

A significant booster of the KBTL bid was City Council President Jane Knodell, P-Central District. “Keep working hard,” she told KBTL members and supporters attending last night’s meeting.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has sought to eliminate KBTL in recent days. Weinberger told city councilors that the low $12 million bid from the co-op is not financially viable and he fears a lawsuit from Citibank. Citibank told the city that the financial gap between the remaining proposals — Ting/Tucows offered to pay $27.5 million — does not meet its institutional “commercial reasonableness” criteria which all bidders were asked to follow.

In particular, the mayor wants to recover about $6 million of the $17 million lost in a misappropriation of city funds used to prop up the failing operation between 2007 and 2009.

Weinberger first revealed his opposition to KBTL on Oct. 12. He told reporters at a news conference that selecting either Ting/Tucows or Schurz “will result in big wins for Burlington Telecom customers, taxpayers and the city. … Fundamentally at this point, the KBTL proposal is not viable.”

Ting/Tucows will add an additional $500,000 if Burlington Telecom’s financial goal for this fiscal year is exceeded. Burlington could potentially receive a 20 percent equity position in the arrangement if approved. Representatives of the company said the firm will finish building out the fiber network across city, with the exception of 120 hard-to-reach homes.

KBTL’s low $12 million offer includes $10.5 million in cash with the city retaining a $1.5 million interest in the telecom, meaning the co-op would own 87.5 percent of Burlington Telecom. Of the total amount, $10 million would come from a loan to be financed at 14 percent interest. Unlike Ting/Tucows, city subscribers of the telecom would become KBTL co-op members automatically at no cost.

In advance of the city council vote, Burlington Telecom welcomed residents to comment on its Facebook page. Residents reacted to various topics including service promises and customer service.

“Burlington Telecom has the best (internet) rates in Burlington,” wrote Kiersten Hallquist. ” …I’ve had the most incredible experience with their customer service team; they are all incredible friendly, understanding, and accommodating. I can’t imagine why people would go with any other provider if living in the BT service zone.”

Jackie Hickerson felt differently. “I am a Burlington resident. I pay Burlington taxes. I have been trying to access Burlington Telcom since its beginning but am always told ‘we don’t service your area yet.’ I don’t understand how Burlington Telcom can enjoy the tax-free status of a municipal entity and not service the entire municipality. I am paying the taxes as a Burlington resident. Sounds pretty fishy to me.”

The City Council is expected to choose the winning bid in two weeks at its next meeting.

Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at lvinvt@gmx.com.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Beyond My Ken and Burlington Telecom

3 thoughts on “Burlington Telecom buyer down to Ting, Keep BT Local

  1. A Clarification:
    In this article, you state…”In advance of the city council vote, Burlington Telecom welcomed residents to comment on its Facebook page. Residents reacted to various topics including service promises and customer service.”

    We did not welcome these comments in advance of the city council vote. The quotes you used are Facebook reviews, a service used by most businesses on Facebook. Our customers are welcome to leave a review of our service at any time. These have nothing to do with the sale. We also welcome comments from residents who are understandably frustrated that we do not yet serve their address. Comments such as this help inform our decisions as we continue the completion of BT’s network footprint throughout the City.

    Prior to the vote, however, the Mayor’s office and City Council DID collect public feedback through an email BTfeedback@burlingtonvt.gov Those emails have all been published as public record and can be found here:

    Abbie Tykocki
    Director of Marketing & PR
    Burlington Telecom

    • Thank you for your comment and clarification. Yes, we did note that the quotes were Facebook comments but will clarify the ‘prior to the vote’. Also, we will include your link to the public email comments; we were unaware of these comments online.

  2. Well it looks like the City Council is pushing it’s agenda to keep this “BoonDoggle” Alive!
    I guess they haven’t learned a thing from the inception of BT, until today. Sad.

    Keep strapping the TAX payers when ” Keep BT Local ” wants to be part owner hoping the
    city will front the rest? This entity KBTL does not have the funding to take on this endeavor,
    but the wisdom ( Lack Of ) from our City Council will look beyond that, as the their agenda
    will always come first, not the TAX Payers well being. Shameful!

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