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City Council Asks Potential Buyers of Burlington Telecom To Pursue a Joint Venture

Residents attending the City Council meeting in support of Keep BT Local. The council was unable to pick a buy for BT and instead asked the two finalist to pursue forming a joint venture.
Liam Elder-Connors
Residents attending the City Council meeting in support of Keep BT Local. The council was unable to pick a buy for BT and instead asked the two finalist to pursue forming a joint venture.

After deadlocking twice on the vote to select a buyer for Burlington Telecom, the City Council approved a resolution asking the two finalists to consider forming a joint venture.
The council passed that resolution almost unanimously with only one councilor voting against it.

The move came after the council tried twice to vote on a buyer for Burlington Telecom and both times the vote was tied – six for the local cooperative Keep BT Local and six for Ting/Tucows, a Canadian company.

Because of the resolution governing how the voting process worked after each of the votes the council had to take a recess. After the first tie vote, the council broke for a 15 minute recess and briefly returned only to have to break again when the vote was  tie.

During the break after the second vote – which was supposed to be only 10 minutes but lasted over 40 minutes – a group of city councilors, Mayor Miro Weinberger and representatives from both Ting/Tucows and Keep BT Local met behind the glass doors in the city hall lobby.

When the council returned after the second break, they voted to stop voting on who should buy Burlington Telecom and began to weigh other options – including a resolution that would ask Keep BT Local and Ting/Tucows to consider forming a joint venture.

Representative for the two groups said that they would be willing to discuss the possibility.

“We don’t know whether there’s a place to go with this, we don’t know what the end results would be, said Andy Montroll, vice-chair of the Keep BT Local board. “But having conversations and trying to see if there’s a place for a mutual way to work through is certainly an option we’d be open to looking at.”

Monica Webb, director of Market Development and Government Affairs for Ting/Tucows,  the groups had “philosophical alignment on doing what’s best for the community.”

“We talked about some broad concepts that both parties would be agreeable to and we suggested that we work out more details over the coming week,” Webb said.

Neither group made any firm commitments about what a joint venture would look like, but after the meeting Webb expressed optimism, mentioning that Ting/Tucows have public-private partnerships in other cities as well.

Webb said she wasn’t going to make a judgment on how long Ting/Tucows would stay in the sale process if the groups weren’t able to come to an agreement on how to move forward together.

The resolution passed by the City Council asks Ting/Tucows  and Keep BT Local to develop a proposal for a joint venture and submit it to the council for approve. That proposal would need to be submitted to the council by 5 p.m. on Friday and approved by the council at their meeting next week.

However, if the City Council rejects the joint venture or one isn’t submitted, the Burlington Telecom sale would open back up to the four finalists and the council would vote on those proposals during a meeting on November 27.

Only one councilor – Dave Hartnett – voted against the resolution. Hartnett said he had mixed emotions and he had been prepared to flip his vote from Keep BT Local to Ting/Tucows.

“Now the board of directors of KBTL sells themselves out to Ting, I find that very ironic I really do, Hartnett said. “I think it was a bad decision. Ting’s not the right partner for Burlington in so many ways and there are better partners including the two that we could add back into this.”

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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