In eras past, economic success depended on creating networks that could shift people, merchandise and electric power as efficiently and as widely as possible. Today’s equivalent is broadband: the high-speed internet service that has become as vital a tool for producers and distributors of goods as it is for people plugging into all the social and cultural opportunities offered by the web. Easy access to cheap, fast internet services has become a facilitator of economic growth and a measure of economic performance.
Learning from Burlington Telecom: Some Lessons for Community Networks
In little more than a year, Burlington Telecom went from being a hopeful star of the community fiber network movement to an albatross around its neck. The controversies surrounding it have encouraged cable and telephone companies to use it as Exhibit A in their case against communities going into the telecommunications business. However, most of those criticizing Burlington Telecom have very little understanding of what went wrong and how it happened. Examining what actually happened helps to explain how these problems may be avoided, as the vast majority of existing community networks have already done.
In 2007, ILSR issued a case study on Burlington Telecom. The report argued that Burlington Telecom was a model for how communities could build their own next‐generation fiber‐to-the‐home broadband networks.
This report revisits and updates that report, analyzes Burlington Telecom’s situation (for better and for worse), and extracts useful lessons for other communities pursuing community fiber networks.
In preparation for this report, ILSR examined many documents, including those available due to the investigation of Vermont’s Department of Public Service. We interviewed many people from Burlington, including former BT employees, citizens active around the project, and City Council members. We discussed Burlington’s situation with a number of others intimately involved in community broadband networks around the country and posed questions directly to a representative of BT.
This report catalogs many of the problems Burlington Telecom encountered as well as potential solutions for other communities may have to deal with them. It also discusses some of the benefits from Burlington Telecom in order to offer a complete picture of BT's contribution to the community. This is the most comprehensive discussion of Burlington Telecom available.