And Now For The Thrilling Conclusion…..

Must See TV Circa 1977

Must See TV Circa 1977

Ah The Wonderful World of Disney.  That magical showcasing of Disney productions that ran on Sunday nights from 1969-79. Also known in other permutations from 1954-now. But of course in the 1970s Netflix, HBO and indeed the Disney Channel weren’t around. Neither were video playback devices. So what you got, like it or not was unvarnished Disney for a couple of hours every Sunday night in the form of nature films such as White Wilderness where we got to witness 1000s of lemmings leaping to their deaths; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the first Sci Fi film shot in CinemaScope!; or one of my favorites Escape to Witch Mountain a story of two orphaned alien children who eventually rediscover their family and true identities.

Usually towards the end of whatever was showing that Sunday night, right before the commercials (remember those kids) the announcer would say something like “stay tuned for the stunning conclusion” or right after the final commercials aired “and now for the thrilling ending….” And to a little kid in the 70s (or 60s, 80s or even 90s) those words had meaning. You sat through two hours, dozens of mostly awful and odious commercials, and gosh darn it, the ending better be fantastic! Sometimes it was, more often then not is was just kind of meh or even a let down. But what choice did you have?  In those pre-cable, pre-internet days at best you might have been getting 7 or so TV stations and how many of those were showing kids programming on Sunday nights? At the end of the day though, it was all just cooked up old-fashioned Disney Magic.


That brings us to the topic of the hour here in little Burlington, Vermont. Our own Disneyesque debacle…. Burlington Telecom (BT). Now BT for those of you who are just tuning in is our homegrown telecom service provider with offerings including internet, landline phone and cable (the latter two slowly fading into obsolescence). Our saga started way back in 2009 when BT, then a fledgling company, violated its state license (CPG) by using taxpayer monies to prop-up its infrastructure.  The legend has long been told and retold, but the then Administration of Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss, diverted $17 million from Burlington’s so called “cash pool” bank, without telling anyone, including the City Council. The City then defaulted on the $33 million lease it had with Citibank for the telecom infrastructure (think buried fibre optic cable). Citibank sued the City and the resulting 2014 settlement meant that BT has to be sold and at the time of sale 50% of the proceeds goes to local investors Blue Water and the other 50% of the proceeds get split between the City and Citibank.

Now here’s the part where in a Disney Film, you might have seen the employ of some ancient special effects like rewinding really fast or time travel or something. As outlined in my recent VPR Commentary, the reason the City had to enter into such an egregious agreement with Citibank, is that instead of bringing in the public and the City Council in on BT’s precarious situation in 2009, the Kiss Administration just surreptitiously diverted the $17 million and sealed the fate of BT as a viable public enterprise. Let me repeat that, the ship of BT’s fate, not unlike Captain Hook’s was sealed eight years ago.In the ensuing time, the City now helmed by the Weinberger Administration, heralded a new era of fiscal responsibility and has slowly, but stridently been righting the City’s economic status, bringing it from near junk-bond to a now investment grade bond bond rating.


Of course, like any good plot, there is drama and double-crossing involved. Burlington has a penchant for process. And this penchant has been on full display in the selection of a buyer for BT.  When the process got to four finalists, Toronto Company Ting, local “co-op” KBTL, Indiana Company Schurz and NJ investment firm ZRF, the Weinberger Administration misstepped, something it has not often done. Somehow, based on the Administration calling a potential conflict of interest to ZRF’s attention, ZRF withdrew (for reasons that are still unknown).  This gave the opposition the opportunity to criticize the Administration and utilize the misstep for political gain, by claiming that the Mayor had acted in an untoward manner. Political strike number one.

Now the Council has been more or less split.  The first vote on the initial three finalists saw 6 votes for KBTL, 5 for Ting and 1 for Schurz, so Schurz went by the wayside.  Then on October 30th we thought that there was going to be a resolution. Only KBTL and Ting remained.  It appeared that the vote would be split 6 to 6.  However, at the last minute, Councilor Karen Paul declared that she had a conflict of interest.  That meant that there were only 11 votes going into the voting that evening.  6 for KBTL and 5 for Ting.  It’s clear that if all of the Councilors who had been consistently declaring their support for KBTL actually supported that bid, then they had the votes to win on October 30th. Instead of voting though, the Council delayed and hemmed and hawed and delayed the voting.  Political strike number two.


On November 6th the Council met once again.  This time Councilor Paul’s conflict had been resolved and as expected several votes of 6-6 were taken until the Council essentially voted to reopen the process and invited back both Schurtz and ZRF. It is clear to me anyway, that this was the preferred result of several councilors to begin with, in particular Councilors Wright, Hartnett and President Knodell. President Knodell has she is wont to do, has been playing three-dimensional chess all along as is evidenced by her Facebook posing of November 22nd. Political strike number three.

Now that we’ve had our Thanksgiving turkeys, and return from la la land for at least a few weeks before the next round of holidays sets in and everyone hunkers down for a long winter’s nap, it’s time for the thrilling conclusion of BT…..

KBTL and it’s most diehard supporters will not concede, even though they lost the race a long time ago. One just needs to take a look at their most recent bid. It is nearly nonsensical IMHO as their bid price increases from $12 to $18M with the newly found $6 million being raised on what appears to be pixie-dust and happy-thoughts.  Schurz and ZRF have teamed up with their Council allies, reminiscent of two-bit Disney characters to try and take center stage away from the hero. Their combined bid, is now $25M which is $5.8M LESS then Schurz’s bid alone.  They also fail to commit to net neutrality. Ting’s bid currently stands at $32.3 million and should be a no-brainer. But alas, our story, unlike most of Disney’s is unlikely to have a happy ending.

Why? Politics of course. You see I’ve been watching this same movie a long time. The Progressive Party is actively involved in making sure the Ting bid that is clearly the best, most viable, most creative and most forward thinking, doesn’t succeed.  For the Progressives, this has been and will continue to be about party building.  Ever since they put out this publication during the height of the BT fiasco in 2009, its been clear that BT is a rallying point. As one of their supporters aptly stated “Either BT becomes a victory the left coalesces around or a defeat the left coalesces around.” And just like in 2009, the State Progressive Party is using BT as a political rallying point.  As is common in Burlington Politics the Progressives and the right, such as it is, have aligned to take down the center-left, in this case by doing what it can to thwart the current Administration and set the stage for the Mayoral and Council elections in March, 2018. Although he’s subsequently apologized, Ting’s VP of Marketing and Sales was dead on when he wrote this Reddit post several weeks ago, detailing the political maneuverings of the Council.


Ting should clearly win.  Heck the esteemed Institute for Local Self-Reliance, dedicated to local telecom ownership is even praising Ting. This blog post is obviously being published before the Council vote. I hope I’m wrong, but for now, it looks like the  Schurz/ZRF mediocre bid is going to get the most votes, either in the name of political expediency or because the perfect will ultimately be the enemy of the good. And if you want to see process, just check out this resolution on how the voting is supposed to go on Monday night.  And now for the stunning conclusion……