Burlington, Vermont Downgraded

Burlington, Vermont’s bond rating has been downgraded from Aa3 to A2 and placed on negative credit watch by Moody’s due to a high debt level. At Digital Society, George Ou places the blame on Burlington’s municipal fiber telecom:

In a city with approximately 20,000 homes and businesses, 4800 of which are municipal fiber subscribers, Burlington Telecom seems to have racked up a $50,000,000 debt.  That works out to about $10,417 per subscriber which is a huge tax payer subsidy for relatively affluent homes and businesses that can afford the relatively expensive fiber service.  Three out of four Burlington residents don’t subscribe to the municipal fiber service and it is likely that many of them can’t afford the service yet all of them are subsidizing the muni-fiber service with regressive local sales taxes.

Worst still, Burlington Telecom’s deficits and debt are rising which makes the prospect of financial stability more of a dream than reality.  This is likely due to the low 24% adoption rate and a dearth of premium high paying customers which makes it extremely difficult to recover the high costs of building out 100% of the residents and businesses.  There is even a criminal investigation to determine if millions of dollars have been misappropriated and a lawsuit to reclaim $17 million that Burlington Telecom took in 2008 from the treasury without notifying taxpayers.

Just last year, Burlington was crowing about its Aa3 bond rating and its fiscal prudence, predicting that Burlington Telecom would become self-sustaining in the near term. What a difference a year makes.

Via the Twitter feed of Cord Blomquist.