Monday, March 31, 2008

Open Fiber: Tim Nulty

Tim Nulty: I have a career in telecommunications in which I have steadily sunk in the system. I retired in Vermont, and I was inveigled to help Burlington bring back a ubiquitous fiber to the home network. The initial financing for the real network was signed in December 2004. We broke ground in 2005. We signed up our first customer in 2006. And in 2007 we went cash flow positive for operations. Covering our debt and being profitable will happen in about 2009. That's stunning for a very capital-intensive telecommunications operation.

The foundation of that was (a) be universal, design to cover everybody, (b) it's open access; I don't mean we don't offer services – if you don't do that, you'll go broke – offering retail services means we make money, but open access for us means we have an almost infinite resource, and (c) be financially self-sufficient. In much of Europe, the foundation is in some form taxpayer. That's fine. That's great. Good idea. In the United States, that won't happen. In some states, including Vermont, it's illegal to build it with taxpayer funds. (d) Be future proof. Forget DSL, cable modem, and all that nonsense. We all know that won't last 10 years. You need to build something to last a long time.

I resigned from Burlington telecom in November because we were getting so many calls from all over saying, that's great, but can we do it? I want to see if we can take this model into two places that were substantially different than Burlington. Can you bring it to genuinely rural America? None of these towns is big enough to do it on its own. The biggest town is 11,000 people. Can you do it with an assembly of 35 towns? Can you organize that? It's really more of an organizational question.

We do expect to do this. We've had votes in all the towns in March. They were about 95% in favor. The worst was in the capital, Montpelier, where we had about 80%. We're doing a presubscription now, and some of the towns are 47% presubscribed.

The bottom line is that this vision can work in a practical way in the United States in really rural areas. The network we built is one generation more modern than than the FIOS system. We're just a little more modern than Verizon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I resigned from Burlington telecom in November because..."

Given the fact that Leopold is now blaming BT's original "overly simplistic" business plan for their current woes, might this have had a bit more to do with seeing the writing on the wall? Hmmm...