City Council Reopens Bids and Sets Parameters For Choosing BT Buyer

Nov 14, 2017

During its November 6th meeting, the Burlington City Council deadlocked while trying to choose a buyer for its cable and broadband provider Burlington Telecom.  So it passed a resolution asking the two finalists to develop a joint partnership.   If they failed, the council would reopen bids to two previous bidders.  At last night’s meeting, the council adopted a process to choose from among the original four would-be buyers.

On Nov. 10, city officials were advised by email that Ting and KBTL had failed to create a joint venture. Previous bidders Schurz Communications and ZRF will now be reconsidered.

Only six individuals spoke during the city council’s public comment period and two comments were unrelated to Burlington Telecom.  A week before, more than 50 queued up to the mic.  The four speakers who did comment urged leaders to support the Keep Burlington Telecom Local – or KBTL – bid.  Andrew Simon has spoken before on what he calls the need to support the coop.  “The city that I want to live in does not sell its assets to corporations or investors who offer lucrative packages but have no commitment to this place.”
Council President Jane Knodell: “Charles Simpson.”
Simpson:   “Last week council member Max Tracy asked the audience if they supported the Keep BT Local option. Virtually everyone raised their hand. That should mean something to the council as a whole.  Does it?”

This was a regular city council meeting and the agenda included other items such as parking enforcement hours and deliberations on a Comprehensive Development Ordinance.  After several items of business, the council heard a report from KBTL Board Member Andy Montroll on the effort over the past week to create a partnership with rival bidder Ting. He said the idea had potential but they were not able to reach agreement.  “We had a series of really good meetings with the folks at Ting. We tried hard to come to resolution. The mayor's office got engaged in this to try to help as well.  But ultimately we weren't able to get to a point, to a place, that would work for all of us.”

With the joint bid between Ting and KBTL scuttled, city councilors were prepared on Monday with a resolution to re-open the bidding process to include two previously rejected companies. Now in addition to KBTL and  Ting/Tucows, Schurz and ZRF will submit new Letters of Intent.

Ward 8 Independent Adam Roof offered the resolution outlining the process for selecting a buyer.  He says it provides an agreeable path for the council to follow and close the sales process.  “It calls for a group of four councilors to consider options of how the council will proceed with voting during our meeting on the 27th. It clarifies the roles and standards of negotiation from this point forward. It further clarifies under what circumstances councilors may interact with the bidders. It sets in a clear fashion items that will help this council and the public make a fully informed decision on the 27th.  Looking forward I think this resolution lays out how and when we will get to the finish line.”

Several amendments were considered to clarify language in the resolution.  Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy then offered an amendment to force the mayor’s office to disclose all communications with bidders.  Mayor Miro Weinberger said the amendment was impractical.  “I think it's both impractical and unappropriate for the council to tell the administration how the administration could conduct its business. I take issue with the notion that there is some mistake of the past that we have to be concerned about being repeated here.”

Tracy’s amendment failed.

The main resolution passed 11 to 1.  The city council will meet on November 27th to select a Burlington Telecom buyer.  A work session prior to the regular session will be open to the public.  Audio of the city council meeting is courtesy of the live webstream from Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.