Burlington Telecom the new "proof" that community broadband does not work

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/15/2010 - 15:40

More information about the financial problems of the city-owned Burlington Telecom (Burlington, Vermont) venture are emerging. Opponents of community broadband will be eager to hold this up as the latest "proof" that community-owned telecom does not work.

What is odd about arguing that communities should stay out of telecom is that the alternative being proposed is basically, "Stick with the 20th century business models that have failed utterly to meet broadband needs in the U.S." So some pioneer community broadband projects have had problems. Anyone remember Adelphia? Anyone remember the hundreds of other cable companies that have failed or been bought up because they were struggling financially?

The opponents of community broadband have nothing, nothing to offer except "stick with what we know has failed." As opposed to, "Let's try some new models and learn what works." It is a very feeble argument.

Projects like Burlington Telecom and Utopia (which is now back on track and so not mentioned so much anymore) are providing valuable best practice information for other community projects. What can be learned from the BT effort?

The BT auditors have said they don't see how BT can repay its debts, but they probably only did an analysis using the existing customer base. We run the numbers on community broadband ventures all the time, and modest increases in the customer base can make a big difference in paying off debt over ten or fifteen years. Auditors are not usually going to engage in speculative analysis, but it is incorrect to read too much into the audit conclusions. BT can overcome their problems with good, open management and a sharp focus on increasing their customer base.

Broadband coops catching on

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/30/2008 - 08:34

We are beginning to see the broadband coop as one very viable form of governance for community broadband efforts. Coops are a great ownership and governance model because they firmly vest the enterprise in the community--every subscriber is also a shareholder in the enterprise, and shareholder/members are able to vote and select board members. The Ripton Broadband Coop serves rural customers in rural Vermont via wireless, using an open access, open service model. Two service providers are selling services on the network.

Food: Fuel for the Knowledge Economy

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/26/2007 - 09:14

Broadband is not the only fuel of the Knowledge Economy. Rural leaders often discount the importance of having good places to eat in smaller towns. Microbusinesses and entrepreneurial start ups do a lot of business over breakfast and lunch, and one of the key quality of life factors that drive relocation decisions for enterpreneurs is the right kinds of restaurants--along with good coffee. Small town restaurants don't have to be fancy, but they have to be clean and comfortable, with excellent food and great service. Those are easily achievable goals, but small town restaurant owners may need coaching to bring their food, service, and decor up to the standards needed to attract Knowledge Economy business people. One small town that has the right kind of place is Quechee, Vermont, which has The Farmer's Diner. The Farmer's Diner has great food in a friendly, casual atmosphere, but the establishment also serves up locally grown food whenever possible--leveraging the interest in fresh and organic food, while providing a local sales opportunity for nearby farmers-a nice synergy.

Vermont lowers barriers to broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/14/2006 - 10:32

Vermont legislators are debating legislation that would provide low interest loans to wireless providers that offer broadband in underserved areas of the state. And even better, the state lawmakers may waive onerous state-required impact reviews and red tape for new wireless towers if local communities have an approved review process in place.

This is exactly what government should be doing--making it easier and less expensive for the private sector to build out broadband infrastructure. The wireless tower changes recognize that broadband wireless towers are usually much lower and less obtrusive than cell towers, and don't require the same level of study and oversight.

Good for Vermont. Let's hope this bill breezes through the legislature and gets passed quickly.

Vermont gets WiFi at rest stops

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/02/2005 - 12:24

The state of Vermont is installing WiFi at every rest stop in the state. A grant is helping to fund the initial equipment expenditure, but fees will pay for the management and ongoing expense.

It looks like it has been well-thought out. Government is providing the initial infrastructure, the private sector manages it, which creates jobs, and the public that want to use it pay a modest fee.

This is a great example of a public/private partnership, and this is not "competing" with the private sector; it is creating private sector business opportunities. And tax dollars are not funding it; user fees are. And it is modest in scope. I'm very wary of big wireless projects that don't have well-identified markets. Rest stops have a ready and willing supply of truckers, tourists, and businesspeople who I think will be happy to pay a few bucks for access.

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