Burlington, Vt. -- The City Council here gave its
electrical utility permission to research municipally owned telecommunications services.
The Burlington Electric Department is the state's
largest public power utility, and it serves 19,000 residents and businesses in the
Tom Buckley, manager of customer and energy services, said
the utility has considered expanding for some time. In 1996, voters approved a charter
amendment allowing the utility to investigate other revenue opportunities. Action was
delayed until 1999 because the telecommunications marketplace is evolving so quickly, he
Arthur D. Little Inc. will conduct a survey on behalf of
the utility, which will focus on the viability of telephone, Internet and cable services.
The utility informally analyzed those services, and "we think they will be a very
good fit," Buckley said.
Historically, electric companies have expanded into
telecommunications, rather than other services, because they have upgraded their plants.
This allows them to move into utility-related data tasks such as remote meter reading.
Layering video and data services on fiber-rich
infrastructure is considered the next logical step. But Buckley said BED only has
"some fiber optic" now, and it has conducted limited remote meter reading.
If BED moves forward, it will find itself in head-to-head
competition with Adelphia Communications Corp., which operates in most towns in Vermont.
The MSO is in the process of upgrading the majority of its plant to two-way capability.
Buckley said one of the aspects of the Little report will
include a consumer poll to see what subscribers think of Adelphia. "Our No. 1
motivating factor is that we believe we can provide equal or better service at lower rates
[than Adelphia]," he said.
Officials believe the consultant's report should be
completed by the end of the year.