Burlington Telecom Advisory Committee

This past Monday evening I was appointed by the City Council of the City of Burlington, Vermont to the Telecommunications Advisory Committee. In this volunteer position, my role is to advise the City Council on matters related to Burlington Telecom, a municipally owned telecommunications services provider.

I have many of my own opinions about Burlington Telecom, its role in our community, and its future. As a member of this committee, I’m more interested in bringing the opinions of others forward. If you’re part of the Burlington community, please share with me your thoughts about Burlington Telecom. What do you want out of Burlington Telecom? What attributes of Burlington Telecom are important to you? Please share these thoughts publicly on Google Moderator. I’ve shared a few of my own thoughts to get things started.

As I mentioned, I have my own opinions about Burlington Telecom. To understand further where I’m coming from, I’ve included here a truncated version of the letter I sent applying to be on the committee.

Dear City Councilors:

Enclosed for your consideration is my application to join the Burlington Telecom Advisory Committee. I was one of the first beta customers when Burlington Telecom launched. I am now both a residential and a business customer. I was enthusiastic about the vision for Burlington Telecom from the moment I first heard about it. As someone who spends a good portion of his personal and professional life online, I understood immediately the cultural and economic benefits that an advanced fiber optic network could bring to our city.

Burlington Telecom is the 21st century equivalent of rural electrification, at a local scale. Like electricity in the 1930s, private companies are unwilling to invest in a telecommunications infrastructure that will spur economic growth in less populated areas. Companies like Verizon have gone so far as to divest their networks in non-metropolitan areas so that they don’t need to build-out modern broadband infrastructure in these places.

The Burlington Electric Department proudly states, “public power since 1905.” The City of Burlington created the Burlington Electric Department a full 30 years before the forming of the Rural Electrification Administration at the federal level. The City of Burlington seemed to have similar foresight when they created Burlington Telecom. Perhaps Burlington Telecom is an idea that is ahead of its time. Maybe we should wait several decades for a national initiative on telecommunications infrastructure. Alternatively, we can be proud of what has been done with Burlington Telecom. There are serious challenges to maintaining Burlington Telecom as a public resource, but these are challenges worth addressing.

Like the Burlington Electric Department, I believe that the people of Burlington can again be proud of Burlington Telecom. During Tropical Storm Irene, my house lost power for only 30 minutes. This was a point of civic pride for me and provided an exemplar of how our public utilities can be operated. Burlington taxpayers have regularly voted to fund Burlington Electric Department initiatives around green energy, energy efficiency, and general infrastructure improvement. If people can be proud of things as intrinsically boring as utilities and electricity, then we can be proud of a state-of-the-art fiber optic network that provides high-speed Internet, television, and telephone services.

As a member of the Burlington Telecom Advisory Committee, I hope to understand more fully the challenges facing Burlington Telecom and advise the City Council on addressing these challenges while maintaining Burlington Telecom as the vital public resource that it is. I am an advocate for a vision of Burlington Telecom not as a burden, but as a source of great opportunity for our city.