Adrian: Selling Burlington Telecom

Sep 28, 2017

I was there when it happened. Nobody expected it to happen. Nobody was prepared for it to happen. And when it happened, it changed the course of history.

Ok, that’s not the introduction to “The Terminator” or “Mad Max.” It’s a reference to the drama that started almost exactly 8 years ago regarding Burlington Telecom – BT for short.

I was on the Burlington City Council at the time when we were told that the City owned telecom had failed to abide by the conditions set forth in its certificate of public good - a fancy name for a license granted by the then Public Service Board, now know as the Public Utilities Commission.

The most serious license violation was the fact that the Chief Administrative Officer had diverted 17 million dollars from the City’s cash pool to prop up the mismanaged telecom, without authorization from the City Council.

A political storm ensued and for a short period of time I was the lone opponent to a new plan by the Kiss Administration to petition the Public Service Commission to remove the restriction against using general city funds. This condition had been put in place to protect taxpayers from the risks associated with a small municipally owned telecom company competing against large multinational corporations.

Eventually, with the help of other colleagues on the Council, an agreement was reached to let professionals take over the administration of BT.

Multiple lawsuits ensued. But now, nearly eight years later, details of the BT fiasco have been lost in the mists of time, and an advocacy group called Keep Burlington Telecom Local, is once again promoting community ownership of BT.

Local sounds awesome and it is, until it isn’t. We can’t afford to celebrate idealistic aspirations, no matter how lofty or pure, at the expense of taxpayers. My view is that we’re lucky to have excellent out-of-state bidders offering to buy and take over BT operations – because while our little City on the lake is capable of doing amazing things, I don’t believe we can compete in the telecom industry without help from the outside.

And one thing is certain: the impact of this decision will be felt not only by our generation, but future generations as well.