BURLINGTON, Vt. — A public option for phone, cable and Internet seemed like a good idea when this Vermont college town launched Burlington Telecom four years ago.
Now top city officials are under fire to explain a $17 million debt and whether taxpayer dollars are subsidizing an enterprise usually left to the private sector.
Burlington has touted its telecom system as one of fewer than three dozen "fiber-to-the-home" cable systems in the country, with gigantic capacity and superior speeds for Internet transmission. One of the hottest debates in its brief history came last year when Burlington Telecom decided to continue carrying the English-language version of the Qatar-based network Al-Jazeera.
The new telecom tussle has unfolded in recent weeks after city officials revealed that Burlington Telecom had borrowed $17 million from the city's "pooled cash" in the past two years but had not paid it back within the 60 days required under its state license.
The administration of Mayor Bob Kiss has come under attack by critics who say the mayor's office failed to keep the City Council adequately informed of Burlington Telecom's troubles and kept the public in the dark.
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