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Nadworny: Burlington Telecom

11/05/09 7:55AM By Rich Nadworny
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(HOST) Burlington resident and avid internet user Rich Nadworny has been following the Burlington Telecom issue and is hopeful something good may emerge from the controversy..

(NADWORNY) By now, most people have heard about the Burlington Telecom controversy. Apparently the city cut some corners and ignored certain rules in order to keep its Internet, telephone and cable company afloat just when the credit markets were seizing up tighter than a hungry boa constrictor around its unsuspecting lunch.

The media and the political vultures are all over this one, some with good reasons and some with not so good reasons. But the issue at hand: whether the city is guilty of financial mismanagement is an important one and Burlingtonians deserve an accurate accounting of what happened. Then, and only then, can anyone be held accountable for wrongdoing.

What fascinates me most about this whole brouhaha is that it's happening at the exact same time that Vermont's main telecommunications business, FairPoint, is going through its own financial meltdown. FairPoint has a virtual telephone monopoly in Vermont, after taking over Verizon's landline business, but it has major issues throughout New England and has recently declared bankruptcy.

So now we have two Vermont telecommunications companies suffering through similar economic woes, with much of the blame falling on the credit market. But that's about as far as the similarities go. If you've read the papers or the Web over the last year, you'd know that a lot of people feel angry with Fair Point's service and the product itself. It's a pretty ugly picture.

The picture is different at Burlington Telecom. While it's not perfect, it provides a very good product and good service. In my work, I'm completely dependent on my Internet connection. Actually, most businesses in Vermont are. I could probably deal with an oil crisis easier than a broadband crisis. Most of the people I work with who live just outside of Burlington all tell me the same thing: They desperately wish they had Burlington Telecom instead of their current provider.

Some of the vitriol in the current debate stems from principle. A number of people, on principle, are against municipal or state entities competing with private industry. It's their right to oppose Burlington Telecom on those grounds. I hold to a different principle: I think it's every Vermonter's right to have fast, reliable and affordable Internet connectivity. I don't care where it comes from. We need it to compete in the global economy. And in the broadband classroom of the U.S., Vermont is sitting in the corner in a dunce cap.

I also see something very positive with the Burlington City Council appointing special panels to look into Burlington Telecom. As private, taxpaying citizens, we have almost no power to look into financial mismanagement in companies like FairPoint or even Goldman Sachs and even less power to mete out punishment to deserving CEOs or CFOs. With Burlington, we do have that power, through our elected Councilors.

I think this is a great opportunity for the public sector to show the private sector how to do business and deal with corporate mismanagement. Who knows, they might even learn something.

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burlington_telecom fairpoint_communications
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