Supporters make final pitch in Burlington Telecom sale debate

Published: Oct. 27, 2017 at 5:08 PM EDT
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The Burlington City Council votes Monday on the future of Burlington Telecom. On Friday, both sides made their final pitch.

"It would be locally owned and community controlled. There's no comparison between that and being owned by a giant corporation," said Kit Andrews with Keep Burlington Telecom Local, or KBTL. Andrews has lived in Burlington for over 30 years and says she's spoken with hundreds of residents and businesses who agree. "Everyone yearns to keep Burlington Telecom Local."

Not everyone. Burlington Miro Weinberger says that could cause more issues for the Queen City. The bid allows Burlington to keep partial ownership of BT, but with an 8-percent interest rate, some worry it keeps BT on shaky financial footing.

Burlington is selling the company as part of a settlement with Citibank and a local investor -- they're owed millions. Mayor Weinberger says Citibank has warned of a possible lawsuit If they opt for KBTL's $12.5 million offer, which is much lower than Ting's $30 million.

"Of course there's a worry about it, and we've been talking with the city and I think you just have to deal with it. But with the choices -- losing total control of over so basic, so important, and so fundamental to our future in Burlington, why would we give that up? said Andy Montrell, a KBTL organizer.

With Ting's offer, the city could recover some money from the financial mess at BT. Russ Scully, along with other owners and CEOs of tech companies in Burlington, call themselves "Tech for Ting". They say the Toronto-based company should come out on top. "We applaud the efforts of keep Burlington Telecom local, and while the idea of local appeals emotionally to all of us, it does not outweigh the strengths of Ting as a company or their offer," he said.

They say Ting offers unmatched service and reliability and that it will invest in the city, which will bring job growth. "We believe that the benefits of a Burlington Telecom powered by Ting are extensive. Ting is a stable and profitable company with experience and expertise," Scully said.

But KBTL supporters also promise investment and job growth, too.

So what's the best choice? Does the city keep BT local, and risk more money problems? Or, take Ting's offer, and bring in a for-profit corporation, to replace a local organization.

Mayor Weinberger says KBTL just isn't a viable financial option. When there were three finalists, five city councilors voted for Ting and six voted for KBTL. Some members of the city council met with Ting executives in Toronto Friday to learn a little bit more about the company.

Whatever the final vote Monday, approval on the decision is needed from the Vermont Public Utility Commission.