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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is It Time For Vermont to Take Control of Our Landlines?

Let me be one of the first Vermonters to jump on the "I told you so" bandwagon. Many folks wiser and dumber than I called this one from the start. The original idea defied logic. Verizon, with their internet and mobile business thriving, decided that it was a good idea to get out of the declining landline business. So, they sold the landlines to a much smaller company with far fewer financial resources. If Verizon couldn't make those lines profitable, how could a reasonable person believe that Fairpoint could turn a profit?

One of the major sticking points with either company has been the rolling out of all services to all rural areas. Verizon had made all kinds of promises to the PSB to gain rate hikes. Everytime they wanted to raise rates they promised to do more towards the goal of ruralfication. Verizon never met these goals and when it came time to pony up, they bailed. Surprisingly, Fairpoint made more promises in order to get approval of the Verizon buyout deal. Now it appears that they too will be bailing out on these promises.

This whole folly raises two strongly conflicting questions. First off, I'd like to know what jokers in Montpelier keep taking these promises hook, line and sinker? If someone (presumably) less educated and as out of the loop as I am could see this coming, why couldn't our elected/appointed officials see this and put their foot down before it happened? How hard is it to call obvious BS? Isn't the proof in the pudding? Who exactly is responsible for buying into these lies and why do they still have a job? These are questions that need answers. Before everyone jumps onto the blame the PSB bandwagon, lets not forget all the smoke and mirrors about "Ruralfication" we've heard from Washington and the Douglas administration.

Ok, so I admit that was a whole bunch of questions that were raised, but they are related and lead up to the second bigger question.

Should the state step in and take control or outright ownership of the landlines as a part of critical infrastructure? Before you scoff at such a huge expenditure in such harsh financial times, consider the fact that there are reasons that our sewer and water lines are not privatized. These are basic services that should not be impeded by profiteering. If no company will step in and deliver because it's not profitable, maybe we should do it ourselves. Perhaps there are Federal funds available to assist in the transition. As I recall, this was one of the many planks in the Obama presidential campaign. Why do people in larger areas have fiber optic cable right to their home and businesses while people in rural areas have 1950's copper wire technology to their's? Because it's not profitable. As our rural state struggles to compete for jobs, can we afford to be at a disadvantage because of inferior infrastructure?

Let's face it, we've been held hostage by one company or another since the dawn of time. Ok, so at least since the dawn of the Bell monopoly. Perhaps now is the appropriate time to take control of our own future. Many will point to the successes of the city of Burlington as they've wrested control of essential services as one company after another failed to deliver. There are already efforts underway to deliver high speed internet to several counties in the southeast portion of the state. These communities have taken it upon themselves to bring high speed to their towns because the phone company (insert name here) hasn't delivered the promised coverages.

Of course all of this crap has gone on directly under the noses of several administrations of both political flavors. Call me skeptical for doubting the ability of the pinheads in Montpelier to agree on a good solution that makes a real difference. I've sat and watched us all get the shaft for years. It makes sense for the state to end this once and for all by taking control and eventually return the control of local services to the local municipalities. I'd be be happy to pay for the actual use of communications services just like I pay for the actual use of water. When I have a service problem I can call someone local and someone that has filled the newly created local jobs will have been dispatched to my home to do the repair.

I know there will be some who cry socialism and other such ballyhoo, but haven't we endured enough. All we're really looking for is the ability to be connected to the rest of the world with a technology from this century. Apparently, that's too much too ask. My guess is that we will remain on the short end of the stick unless we do something drastic to change the way these services are delivered and maintained.
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