12.20.2009

More Burlington Telecom: The house of secrets at 200 Church Street

Looking down at the bunker: 200 Church Street, Burlington Telecom HQ.

Friends, Romans, countrymen.... In the spirit of this giving season and MAD Magazine -- a huge influence on me growing up, I present a special holiday composition:

"Secret Business Plan (the Burlington Telecom Song)", sung to the tune of Secret Agent Man...

Refrain:

Secret business plan, secret business plan,
Trust us with your money because we have a...

Secret business plan, secret business plan

Secret business plan, secret business plan,
50 million dollars gone and the bills will come due some day


Secret business plan, secret business plan,
But we know what we are doing and "cash-flow positivity" is only a short ways away

(Repeat Refrain)

Secret business plan, secret business plan,
We'll borrow 100 million dollars so Burlington won't need Comcast Triple Play

Secret business plan, secret business plan,
We meet in executive session and don't let facts get in our way


Because we have a....
Secret business plan, secret business plan,

Secret business plan, secret business plan....

(Add in some Johnny Rivers guitar licks and repeat until bankrupt).

The genesis for this idea came from scanning the responses to 124 pointed questions asked by the Vermont Public Service Board about the current operating condition and future business case for Burlington Telecom (BT). Many of the responses, written by managers, refer to "confidential and proprietary information" like this all too representative example:

Also, I've been following this story for a while now -- and can truly say "I told you so" -- not that anyone reads this blog. It seems that every time I have seen the current General Manager of BT quoted in the press, this gentleman has referred to "confidential marketing plans" and various forms of "proprietary information."

This obsessive secrecy raises questions in my mind like: What secrets are they keeping at 200 Church Street? Why the lack of transparency? (If BT were a public company, there would fewer questions about its financial condition.) Where does the money go? Are the inmates running the asylum?

It's no great secret now that BT is hemorrhaging cash and probably isn't generating enough revenue to cover operating costs, let alone its very significant debt service...which may more than double in the near future.

Burlington Telecom was founded on the premise that Burlington taxpayers would not be exposed to any financial risks for approving the scheme... but, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This truism applies when buying things, electing politicians, watching infomercials, or approving municipal communications networks, and in various other circumstances of daily life.

BT is a subject that could provide me with a year's worth of largely unread blog posts, but I think it's almost time to move on. I do have one more silly idea to publish here on this topic and then I will discuss other even less interesting subjects, unless something especially dramatic happens.

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