2.07.2010

Burlington Telecom: Tides of grim foreboding, moving to fulfillment

My own eyes tell me
Agamemnon has returned.
For that I need no further witness.
But still, here, deep in my heart,
the spontaneous song
keeps up its tuneless dirge,
as the avenging Furies chant.
It kills my confidence, my hope.
Everything inside me
beats against my chest,
surging back and forth
in tides of grim foreboding—
something's moving to fulfillment.
Speech of Cassandra, from Aeschylus, Agememnon, 458 BC.

"Tides of grim foreboding — something's moving to fulfillment" -- truer and more apt words were never spoken. The City of Burlington's attempt at building a municipal communications network, Burlington Telecom, which I would characterize as a 'bad idea, disastrously implemented', now faces its day of financial reckoning.

There are a variety of possible outcomes from this situation, but nothing is certain, except that it seems very likely, that someone (or some entity) is going to take some kind of haircut on this transaction. Burlington taxpayers, this likely means you...

All I have to say on this tired subject at this point in time is "Don't say I didn't warn you." I wrote a blog post in May 2008 were I pointed out that Burlington Telecom had too few customers and way too much debt and seemed unsustainable -- long before the current crisis bubbled up and drew the belated attention of the Burlington City Council, the media (props to John Briggs at the Burlington Free Press for illuminating coverage of BT), and various bloggers.

I spent the latter part of the giddy, frothy, bubbly (it seems so long ago) 1990s working for a Burlington-based Internet service provider. This company was eventually acquired -- through an exercise in the kind of misbegotten financial engineering that presently characterizes the American economy -- by a doomed holding company known as OneMain.com. Much like Burlington Telecom, OneMain.com had a business plan shot through with extravagant examples of wishful thinking and then managed to burn cash at a remarkable rate.

My long suspicion of, and aversion to, the concept of Burlington Telecom is rooted in these experiences and is far more practical than rooted in ideology. I'm not at all surprised at how things have played out: I always thought the project would be too expensive, and that the managerial talent would not exist within Burlington City Government to pull it off successfully.

Here are links to my prior posts on this subject:

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