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Could a co-op save Burlington Telecom? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Could a co-op save Burlington Telecom?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

They've heard all the bad news about Burlington Telecom. The city-owned cable, internet and phone company owes $17 million to the city's taxpayers and potentially $30 million to its former leaseholder, Citibank. But that scandal doesn't change this:

"It's the best telecom service I've ever had," said Alan Matson.

"Their customer service is great, they're local, supportive and I'd like to keep that," LeaAnne Smith said.

A group of several dozen business men and women met in Burlington Thursday night to talk positively about the city-owned utility for the first time since its financial trouble was made public in 2009, which played a significant role in downgrading the city's credit rating.

"There may be quite a few people who don't understand the economic opportunity that Burlington Telecom presents for the future growth in this city," said Stephen Barreclough, the general manager of Burlington Telecom.

This group does and they want a shot at purchasing it. So, they decided to form a co-op. They want 1,000 members by February. Membership will cost $250 per person. They want 4,000 members by 2014, which would mean $1 million in capital from members alone. The group also plans to pursue commercial loans, member loans and support from local businesses.

"The city has invested money in this, taxpayers, citizens have invested money in this," said Matson, the co-op organizer.

"The fiber's already there. For someone to abandon it and not use it would end up as a tragedy for the city of Burlington," Barreclough said.

Barreclough says any interest in BT is positive news for the city, though none of it matters unless the city can reach a deal with Citibank.

"Until or unless we reach a resolution with Citicapital either in court or out of court, such conjecture is premature," Barreclough said.

This offer is one of many on the table. Barreclough says he's pleased that despite negative publicity, many members are willing to stand behind BT to keep control local.

This co-op does not yet have a name. They're hoping to agree on one by March.

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