Tag: "Vermont"

Posted August 15, 2018 by Hannah Rank

Burlington Telecom (BT), the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) ISP in Burlington, Vermont, has been celebrating two pieces of recent good news. The ISP received praise from customers in a BT survey, and became the first fiber provider in its region to be “fiber certified.”

BT has had some bumps in the road as it transitions from a municipally run ISP to a private sector one. The change didn’t stop the telecom, however, from continuing to receive good feedback from the annual customer survey. Overall, 90 percent of BT customers said they were at least “satisfied” with their service, and 70 percent of those said they were “very satisfied.” BT also saw a 5 percentage point increase in customer satisfaction with the quality of customer service, to 77 percent.

The accolades don’t stop there. Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) awards All-Fiber Certifications to those networks providing at least 90 percent fiber optic connectivity to subscribing residences. BT boasts 100 percent fiber, making it the first ISP in New England to receive the FBA certification. The All-Fiber certification not only recognizes majority-fiber networks, but also high level strategy in deployment of that fiber, and a commitment of the networks to bring the highest quality connectivity to its customers.

2018-BT-fiber-certified-seal.pngThe Future of the Promising Network

Burlington Telecom began as a municipally-run network. However, due to mismanagement of funds on the part of the city, BT had to reach a deal with investors to settle a debt issue, contingent upon the city selling the telecom to a private entity. Back when the financial mismanagement came to light and the future of the municipal telecom first got on shaky ground, Community Networks wrote a case study of the rise and fall of Burlington Telecom.

Burlington residents, wishing...

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Posted May 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

Vermont was one of the first states to take decisive action to try to curb the harmful consequences from the repeal of network neutrality. It’s only fitting that Senator Bernie Sanders recently released a video on network neutrality featuring one of the country’s experts on connectivity — our own Christopher Mitchell.

The video details how the FCC’s decision to eliminate federal network neutrality protections will harm rural America. Christopher describes the lack of competition as it exists today and how services and prices will change to the detriment of subscribers if we move forward without network neutrality in place. 

“We can’t expect competition in rural areas, [they] are, in many cases, only going to have one high-quality network provider,” says Mitchell. “Losing net neutrality means that the cable and telephone companies are going to be able to set up toll booths and charge more money on the networks they’ve already created.”

Check out the video and share it widely:

Trying to Fix The Mistake

When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other Republican Commissioners voted to repeal network neutrality last December, advocates mobilized. The decision put more than 170 million Americans at risk of losing market protections. By using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Democrats in Congress hope to reverse the Commission’s decision. The repeal formally goes into effect on June 11th.

On May 16th the Senate voted to reverse the FCC decision, 52 - 47; the next step in the process requires the House to take up the measure. Groups such as Fight for the Future are prepared and have started campaigns to convince the House to vote on the same issue. You can sign their...

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Posted March 20, 2018 by lgonzalez

Earlier this month, twelve towns in central Vermont chose Town Meeting Day to ask local voters whether or not they want to band together to improve connectivity. Each community chose to participate in forming a regional Communications Union District, which will allow them to plan, bond for, and develop regional Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure. For episode 298 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher interviews Jeremy Hansen, local Select Board Member and the person who spearheaded the effort to bring the issue to voters in his region.

As Jeremy tells it, he didn’t need to do much convincing when local Vermonters learned about the Communications Union District structure. Most of the people in central Vermont rely on DSL and they overwhelmingly find it inadequate for their needs. The Communications Union District allows several communities to combine their strengths to work toward a single goal. Like water of sewer districts, the entity can issue revenue bonds so the infrastructure is publicly owned, but user funded. ECFiber is organized as a Communications Union District and serves 24 member towns in the eastern part of the state.

Christopher and Jeremy talk about how Jeremy researched, heightened awareness, and how when voters understood the pros and cons, their own common sense led them to approve this first step. He describes what’s next and what he’d like to see happen with the Central Vermont Internet initiative.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is ...

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Posted March 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

We recently learned that a group of communities in central Vermont had decided to ask voters if they should form a communications union district to develop a regional fiber optic network. On March 6th, twelve of thirteen communities who took up the proposal at Town Meeting passed it, and the thirteenth will address the subject in May.

Clearly A Demand

We reached out to Jeremy Hansen, a Board Member in Berlin and the person who’s spearheading the effort to improve connectivity in the region. He told us:

I'm humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of support for this effort here in Central Vermont. There is clearly a demand for an Internet Service Provider that we, as a community, are about to start building. Two more towns outside of those that had it on their Town Meeting agenda (Elmore and Moretown) discussed CVI today, too, and they both look poised to apply to join us once we have our first board meeting.

Communities that passed the measure are Barre City, Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Marshfield, Middlesex, Montpelier, Northfield, Plainfield, Roxbury, Williamstown, and Worcester. In Berlin, East Montpelier, Middlesex, and Worcester the community took up the question with a floor vote and it passed unanimously. The town of Barre will bring up the question at its Town Meeting in May.

Looking East For Inspiration

As an elected official, Hansen has heard many complaints from constituents about poor Internet access and inadequate customer service from ISPs in his town of Berlin. As he's researched the problem, he's found that other communities in the region have faced the same problems. 

logo-cvi.jpg When looking for solutions, Hansen learned about ECFiber, which serves 24 member towns to the east. The publicly owned fiber optic network is organized as a communications union district, a relatively new designation in Vermont that is similar to water or sewer districts. ECFiber is publicly owned infrastructure developed by multiple communities, which allows them to issue revenue bonds to fund a telecommunications project.

Learn more about ECFiber and communications...

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Posted February 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Thirteen communities in central Vermont will ask residents if they want to authorize a communications union district, the first step toward a regional publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Which Towns Will Participate?

On March 6th, towns in Vermont will participate in Town Meeting Day 2018 when they’ll gather and decide a range of issues such as how to spend town funds, which policies to implement, and other choices that effect the entire community. For the past year, Berlin board member and computer science professor Jeremy Hansen has approached town officials from nearby communities to discuss the possibility of developing a regional network.

As an elected official, his constituents have made him aware of poor Internet access in central Vermont. Currently, much of the area relies on DSL from Fairpoint with maximum speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload, a far cry from the 25/3 FCC standard that defines broadband. There are also residents in the area that still use dial-up Internet access.

Local Jerry Diamantides, who works remotely for a company located in Virginia told Vermont Public Radio:

"It is DSL," Diamantides explains. "The ‘S’ certainly stands for slow. The ‘L’ must stand for low. And we’ll let the ‘D’ stand on its own, I guess. But, it’s barely sufficient for what I need."

Inspired By ECFiber

Hansen wants to improve connectivity in the region by establishing a communications union district, which is the model EC Fiber uses. The designation is much like a sewer or water utility, but focuses on delivering Internet access. EC Fiber began with a different model that relied on private investment, but when the state established the communications utility district designation, it was then able to seek financing from a range of other sources. That funding was critical to allow the network to expand, serve more subscribers, and continue to grow.

As he’s presented his proposal to elected...

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Posted February 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

Maple syrup, the Green Mountains, and network neutrality. On February 15th, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed Executive Order No. 2-18, the Internet Neutrality in State Procurement, following closely the actions of four other Governors over the past few weeks. You can read the E.O. here.

States Take A Stand 

Like similar actions in Montana, New York, Hawaii, and New Jersey, Vermont’s executive order applies to contracts between ISPs and state agencies. The order directs the state Agency of Administration to change its procedures so that any ISP it contracts with doesn't throttle, engage in paid prioritization, or block content. The Agency of Administration has until April 1st to make the changes to Vermont’s procedures. 

If a state agency cannot obtain services from an ISP that agrees to comport with network neutrality policy, the state agency can apply for a waiver. The E.O. is silent as to what would allow a waiver; presumably the Agency of Administration would need to establish criteria.

Action In The State Chambers

In early February, the State Senate passed S.289 with only 5 nays and 23 yeas. The executive order Scott recently signed reflected the intention behind the language of S.289 regarding state contracts. When Sen. Virginia Lyons introduced the bill, she described it as a necessary tool to ensure transparency in government. “We don’t want to see information held back or slowed down or deviated in any way when it relates to our state or local government,” Lyons said.

After passage, however, the secretary of the Agency of Administration, the secretary of...

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Posted December 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

Last week, Burlington’s City Council finally chose a buyer for Burlington Telecom (BT), their municipal network that began serving residents and businesses in the early 2000s. City Councilors and representatives from Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners hashed out the details of an agreement at the eleventh hour. The Letter of Intent (LOI) was released on December 6th; the public can now analyze the deal their elected officials chose for them.

Night Work

On December 1st, editors at the Burlington Free Press published a piece highly critical of the process that occurred in the late night and early morning hours of November 27th and 28th. They wrote:

Burlington residents have every right to wonder what happened to the promise of an open and public process for picking a buyer for Burlington Telecom.

Many city residents woke up Wednesday morning to find that their elected representatives had chosen Schurz Communications as their preferred buyer for Burlington Telecom based on a bid significantly revised just hours before the vote.

Editors went on to state that the City Council had “negated the months-long public process for the sale” of BT by allowing Schurz and ZRF to alter their bid and accepting it without giving the community time to review it or weigh in. After so much time and effort invested in a process that was intended to be transparent and include the entire community, Burlington leaders seem to have dropped the ball at the five-yard line.

The Letter Of Intent

People following the process know that Schurz was one of the four bidders that made it to the semi-finalist status but was eliminated when the City Council cut the list down to Toronto-based Ting Internet and the Keep Burlington Local Cooperative (KBTL). When the vote was split between Ting and KBTL, the City Council asked the two to try to work...

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Posted December 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

We're continuing the interviews Christopher conducted while at the November Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta; this week, he's talking with Stephen Barraclough, General Manager for Burlington Telecom (BT) in Vermont. Stephen has worked diligently to reinvigorate and preserve the publicly owned network that, regardless of troubles, has been popular with subscribers.

Christopher and Stephen had their conversation prior to the November 27th Burlington City Council meeting when Councilors voted to sell the asset to Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners. The vote came after a long and arduous process that dragged on the community. Details of the agreement were still being negotiated when we published this podcast. Read more about the history of BT here.

Stephen and Christopher talk about what it was like when Stephen took the helm of the network. At the time, there were financial difficulties caused by a prior Mayor’s administration, but the community had come to rely on the fiber optic network and wanted to do what they could to preserve it.

Stephen describes the problems he faced and how they went about restoring the network step by step. He notes that saving BT was a team effort that involved industry colleagues, employees at BT, the city’s leadership, and the community as a whole. Central to their rebirth was self-reflection as an organization and taking control to set themselves apart from the competition. Christopher and Stephen also talk about other issues, such as BT’s low-income program, customer service, and the effort to retain a public interest philosophy under the expectation of privatization. Stephen sees only opportunity for BT and its subscribers as the community moves forward.

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can...

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Posted November 22, 2017 by christopher

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we have been watching the latest developments with Burlington Telecom from afar but with extreme curiosity. We have watched a wonderful local movement grow to Keep Burlington Telecom Local and that fits entirely with our values. 

Because of the challenges from BT's prior mismanagement and court settlement, Burlington's options are limited. The benefits of local ownership are tremendous - from being directly accountable for services to keeping more money in the community. But also the ability to correct problems as they arise. No management is perfect, but local ownership provides the most opportunity to ensure that the network will continue to serve the community, rather than a situation in which the community serves the network. We see the latter far too often in communities stuck with cable monopolies. 

We salute those that have made Keep Burlington Telecom Local a viable option and we continue to hope that BT indeed remain local. But we are concerned that BT may not remain locally controlled. 

In the event that the City Council decides to pick a non-local bidder, we want to offer some observations. We are an organization that shares localism as a strong value and has more than a decade of experience working on broadband policy to best benefit communities. 

We have a long history with Ting (though no financial relationship) but less experience with Schurz Communications. Not only have we extensively documented Ting's partnership with Westminster, Maryland, to build a citywide fiber network, but many of us have been customers of Ting's parent Tucows in various ways. 

In our experience, absentee ownership of broadband networks is concerning, in part, because of a tendency for such a company to cut back on customer service and network investments. Such actions can be financially lucrative in the short term but inconvenient when the owner of the company shops, worships, and/or mingles with those who bear the brunt of such disinvestment. Network owners from afar don't have to worry as much about upsetting their customers from declining standards.

Tucows has long been a force for good in protecting and expanding an open Internet, both in sponsoring important events and via...

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Posted November 21, 2017 by lgonzalez

The people of Burlington have proven beyond a doubt that they believe in publicly owned Internet networks. They’ve fought harder than any other community we’ve seen to maintain a voice in the future of their much loved publicly owned fiber optic network, Burlington Telecom (BT). Now after months of ruminating, debating, and examining their options, the future of BT is still uncertain.

The Back Story

We’ve covered BT extensively and dived into both the numerous benefits the community has enjoyed as well as the problems caused by former Mayor Bob Kiss and his administration. Bad choices and a lack of transparency snowballed, leaving the city to contend with sizable debt. Through all the difficulties, residential and business subscribers have consistently praised their hometown publicly owned network and expressed an appreciation for accountability, good service, and BT’s local ownership.

Citibank-Logo-1.png In order to fend off a lawsuit from Citibank, the city of Burlington had to agree to find a buyer for the network. To maximize the funds the city will receive from the transaction, a sale needs to be finalized by early January.

On November 6th, the City Council was scheduled to vote on which entity would be allowed to purchase the network, but that would have been a dull ending to a story filled with drama and, as the fates would have it, that isn’t what happened. At all.

The Kiss Of Debt

The Kiss administration’s choice to hide cost overruns from the public and the City Council led to a $33 million obligation to CitiBank. In 2014, the two reached a settlement after CitiBank decided to sue in 2011 and the parties had haggled in court for three years. As part of the settlement, the community committed to selling BT. In order to obtain the largest share possible of the proceeds from the sale - 50 percent - Burlington must reach an agreement with a buyer by January 2nd, 2018. The longer it takes to find a buyer, the less of the net proceeds the city will retain.

As an added incentive to get a...

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