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Council Delays Financing V
Monday, December 14, 2009
Breaking News: Council Scuttles Piper Jaffray Deal

I think now it's safe to say "scuttles." They just voted 8-6 to put out a request for proposal to try to get other funding offers from other money companies. That move essentially rendered moot the resolution that would have authorized the letter of intent for a 61 million dollar funding deal with Piper Jaffray. So moot, it was withdrawn.

(Now as I'm writing they are considering Paul Decelles's resolution to kick the CAO off the board of finance. I'll let Briggs report on what happens with that.)

So will the scuttling of the financing proposal scuttle BT itself? BT's chances of survival are clearly diminished after tonight. It's out of money and another big draw from pooled cash to keep it afloat seems unlikely.

We'll see what happens...
posted by Haik Bedrosian @ 7:01 PM  
37 Comments:
  • At December 15, 2009 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What a travesty that the voters voted for a publicly owned utility and a few city councilors with political axes to grind brought it down. It's just plain stupid.

     
  • At December 15, 2009 8:16 AM, Anonymous basic questions said…

    Hey plain stupid...is the company viable? What is it worth? Can it support the debt load? Is anyone in the city connected to the business in any way experienced in running a leveraged company?

    And to repeat a question - why would you put a $60 million mortgage on a business/home/asset worth approximately $12 million.

     
  • At December 15, 2009 9:32 AM, Anonymous jonas said…

    Not sure ideology is worth $60 in this economy. While it would be NICE if "the people" could own their own utility, they cannot AFFORD to.

    That means people are going to have trade one socialist dream for a Marxist reality: it really is all about the money.

    The political agenda of the the MAJORITY of the council seems to be keeping Burlington from levering its economic future on behalf of what effectively is a luxury. News flash: Burlington doesn't NEED BTC. Some people WANT it. Some don't But, all would have to pay for it.

    Those who want it need to make a MUCH better case for BTC, other than ideology.

     
  • At December 15, 2009 9:39 AM, Anonymous jonas said…

    That should read "leveraging"

     
  • At December 17, 2009 10:16 AM, Blogger JBaker said…

    BT is viable and making money. Fair market value is almost $18,000,000. It can support the proposed debt load, yes. Cities, by their nature, have ample experience with leveraged operation.

    To answer your question: you would borrow money to make sure the enterprise is able to make money. It's not a house, it's a money-making enterprise, and will generate more than enough revenue to cover the debt and then some.

    Of course, if some people continue to undermine the financing, they risk this asset on our behalf, as well as the city's bond rating... screwing BT screws us all!

     
  • At December 17, 2009 11:54 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Jason I heard the Burlington School district uses another telecom carrier.

    As a member of the school board, can you speak to that at all?

     
  • At December 18, 2009 2:05 PM, Anonymous Marrisa said…

    Hi Haik--

    Burlington School District: BT does the connectivity, their internet service is provided by another company, and I believe their e-mail is managed in house. BT also provides all the voice services.

    Hope that helps.

    Marrisa

     
  • At December 19, 2009 3:45 PM, Anonymous banker in beantown said…

    JBaker - your answer does not make any sense. How can something be worth $18mm (it is not btw) yet it be ok to borrow $60mm against it?

    There is a difference between equity risk and debt risk. The city is effectively asking the taxpayers to bear that risk. That is why PJ wants to underwrite the debt...it is due to Burlington's implicit guarantee.

    BTW - it is not making money. And it is way off its business plan.

     
  • At December 20, 2009 9:06 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Thanks for that answer Marrisa but it's a little unclear to me. Why does BT provide the school district's connection but not their internet service?

    Could I as a BT subscriber use the BT fiber running up to my house with a different ISP? That just doesn't make sense to me. To me "connectivity" and "internet service" have always appeared synonymous.

    Who is the district using for internet service if not BT, and why? Are the city's own schools getting a better deal with somebody else? That can't look good for BT.

    And what's the deal with the wi-fi hot spots? Can folks living next to the Miller Center on Goss Ct. glom on to the Wi-fi for free?

     
  • At December 20, 2009 6:44 PM, Anonymous roman holiday said…

    Since BT is government- allowing neighbors free wi-fi might violate the equal protection clause.

     
  • At December 21, 2009 10:14 AM, Blogger JBaker said…

    Haik! The short answer is BSD gets a better deal on actual internet access, but saves money on the connectivity through BT's fiber. I am waiting on an "official" response from the Superintendent which will clarify the situation. It may be that there is special pricing for schools. For example, many schools are running Novell networking simply because it's priced very aggressively for schools. It is also not clear to me if BT gets internet from the same company anyway... also put in a call to BT for info. I will be back in touch when I know more.

     
  • At December 21, 2009 10:32 AM, Blogger JBaker said…

    @ "banker in beantown":

    1. BT's fair market value from 2007 on page 8: http://www.ci.burlington.vt.us/mayor/BT/Docs/BT_Exhibit_6.pdf

    2. You are a banker, yet can't envision anyone borrowing money without having more than the amount in assets? Are you a really inexperienced banker? Know ANYTHING about business loans? Ever hear of projected earnings?

    3. And yes they are making money. Asserting that they aren't doesn't' change the reality that they are they are taking in more than they are paying out for services. Development/build out costs are not traditionally considered part of the operating budget.

    4. You are in Boston? This is Burlington VT. Just in case you were lost, or maybe thought we cared about your opinion.

    :)

     
  • At December 21, 2009 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    JBaker. Thank you for making it absolutely clear that you have no experience in business valuation. In response:

    1. Did you really cite their 2007 business valuation as "fair market value"? Come on...that was speculative at best and obviously dated. I bet everyone on this list wishes the markets were where they were in 2007. wow

    2. I lend for a living. Business loans are generally made on ASSET VALUE and PERSONAL GUARANTEES (duh). It is the projected earnings that pay them back. They are asset based in all respects..like a mortgage. How about I don't lecture you on technology and you don't attempt to lecture on corporate finance (which is all this is).

    3. When a business consists of building a secondary cable platform development/build costs must be taken into account for profitability. And I am sure you are familiar with the fact most/all cable businesses (esp triple play) will be spending upgrade/development costs through the end of time.

    4. I am in Boston but also in Burlington (and from Burlington)...lending to companies that can afford to pay the bank back.

     
  • At December 21, 2009 2:05 PM, Blogger JBaker said…

    From Jeanne Collins,Superintendent of Schools:

    Dear Commissioners, Mayor Kiss and Councilors,

    We have received questions about the use of BT by the schools since the public discussions occuring at city council. I provide this information so all have the same information about the schools. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.

    BSD has a 5 year contract with BT for telephone services and have used their phone services since they became an eligible telecommunications provider. We also have a 3 year contract with them for all of our fibre connections that allow the schools to communicate. The total cost of these two contracts is about $130K annually.

    We do not get our internet service through them. This $11k annual contract is with Vermont Telephone Company who provides internet access at a price that is less than BT pays for their own internet access. This has to be done by bid, as it is an e-rate eligible service for us. Price is not the sole consideration, but it is about 70% of the consideration ni the bid process. It is possible, but not confirmed that VTel actually provides the internet access service to BT as well. If not, another major carrier does.

    It is important to note that the data transmission services (fiber) is only available through BT, and if this connectivity had to be provided by another telecommunications provider, the prices for basic copper connections we have been quoted would cost three to four times our current expense.

    Jeanne Collins
    Superintendent of Schools
    Burlington School District
    150 Colchester Ave.
    Burlington, VT 05401
    802-864-8474
    FAX: 864-8501

     
  • At December 21, 2009 3:14 PM, Blogger JBaker said…

    bank dude:

    1. The valuation was used in the calculation of PILOT for 2008, and is indeed the Fair Market Value at the time. BT is worth more now due to growth.

    2. Like a mortgage? Mortgages on commercial properties take into account projected rent, don't they?

    3. It IS Telecom financing, so there are deep capital costs up front, sure, and payback is long... however, that is the beauty of a fiber network: upgrade costs are minimal after payback. The value is in the access to the network, which allows for substantial leveraging. Most big telecom companies that actually own lines are leveraged far more than is sane... BT is what, 5:1?

    4. Guess you would not have invested in most tech startups. Most had huge losses the first few years... and then made millions. Oh and BT is able to pay it's debt service, according to the records.

     
  • At December 21, 2009 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ok. So we are keeping it civil.

    1) BT's current FMV is approximately $12mm based on subscribers/potential growth/public comps. And that is being generous due to the fact it is a secondary company, not the incumbent.

    2) Commercial mortgages do take into account rent...but the nature of commercial mortgages is for assets (buildings) that are multi-tenanted, mutli-use facilities with a history of good rental streams. A cable line is a cable line is a cable line.

    3) nope. Leverage is defined as Total debt divided by EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation). This is also adjusted to take into account cap-ex spend in certain cases. BT is massively/infinitely leveraged. That is why borrowing the $60mm when the business is worth 1/5 of that is such a major issue.

    And the value in accessing any network is a heck of a lot less when you factor in that there is already a provider of all of these services. That is a massive valuation issue.

    4. Most tech start ups fail. Most do not make millions. Should the taxpayer be taking the risk in this case...or even leave it in the hands of the city/public officials? Tech investing can be massively profitable/interesting (I do it), but the city putting all their eggs in one basket is not exactly a good "portfolio".

    Most of the economic arguments you are making were quite common during the phase of CLEC buildouts and data centers from 1998-2002.

     
  • At December 22, 2009 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love how JBaker plays the xenophobe card on Banker in Beantown when painted into a corner.

    I'm still waiting to hear more about how "Most [high tech companies had] huge losses the first few years... and then made millions."

     
  • At December 22, 2009 10:03 AM, Blogger JBaker said…

    to banker: yeah and let's stop numbering everything too lol

    If you knew this was the value, why did you ask in the first place? Or did you find this just now? Where? I wanna see...

    BT's fiber is "multi-use" (phone, cable/VOD/etc., internet) and not just a "cable" line.. there is room for many more "tenants" to rent the space.

    Well, you have out-wonked me on "leverage", but I am still confused: if you leave out cap-ex, is 1/5 the leverage ratio? Doesn't seem all that bad, compared to much of what we heard about his past year...

    There may be a provider of "services" but they don't have FTTH and THAT is what is different.. comcast and fairpoint are not the best game in town technologically, and will not be able to compete (which is why they are so against BT).

    I didn't mean to imply most tech startup did well after spending lots of money: most failed. However, if you look at the biggest "new" products and services, you see several years of investment with no returns, then market penetration, then money... just noting the pattern. Name the three biggest IT successes of the past ten years, and then look how long it took to cover the capital costs.

    to "anon": xenophobe? um no. Just sick of people who don't live here thinking that their opinion on matters in my town are of any interest to anyone but themselves. Sort of like the trolls on the BFP website... and you maybe?

     
  • At December 22, 2009 10:51 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Jason, opinions expressed by non-residents on matters in your town certainly are of interest to others. Your supercilious derision is unfounded.

     
  • At December 23, 2009 8:14 AM, Blogger JBaker said…

    I respectfully disagree Haik. I have every right in the world to disdain the opinions of outsiders. They have every right to keep offering them, and I still can devalue those opinions due to relevance. If someone doesn't work and live here, they are not part of this community, and it is perfectly reasonable to ignore their opinions as ill-informed and mere meddling. Of course they can continue, and I can continue to give them the raspberry and say "go shit in your own house". Now THAT's American Freedom.

     
  • At December 23, 2009 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jbaker:

    I've lived in Burlington, gone to school in Burlington, paid taxes in Burlington, owned homes in Burlington, and raised children in Burlington longer than you have.

    Why do I know that? Because we're the same age and I would have known you from elementary, middle, or high school, etc. And I don't. Unless you went to Rice and I missed you, YOU are more of an outsider than I will ever be.

    Sure, you have every right to disdain the opinions of others. But given that you're now 0-2 on calling out the local interests of posters here, why don't you stfu about it and address positions BASED ON THEIR MERITS.

    Your comments about tech startups are still confusing. The three biggest IT successes in the last 10 years - like Nokia, IBM, Samsung? Or, do you mean startups? Like Google, Yahoo, etc.?
    The takeaway is still quite clear: MOST OF THEM FAILED.

    Honestly, I work in the high tech industry but I don't even have to out-wonk you to point out that just because many companies ran in the red before they hit the black *does not validate BT's lack of a proper business plan*. By definition, they have already screwed up royally with *millions* in cost overruns.

    That I am among the folks who live in Burlington who can't get BT doesn't help my attitude. I love the fact that I'll be paying for a service - yes, as a taxpayer, I will be paying for the service - that I CAN'T GET.

     
  • At December 23, 2009 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jbaker - some more comments from the Banker in Beantown (no numbers this time...).

    My question on valuation was to hopefully elicit from someone in Burlington a view on what BT is worth. The $12mm I quoted comes from a valuation per subscriber basis and adjusting for potential growth...while being kind and not adjusting for the fact they are not the incumbent provider (a material issue). No one has challenged my valuation...yet everyone seems to be ok with putting a $60mm mortgage on the asset. Insane. Really.

    When I say cable line I do mean to include the multi-use aspect..but that does not change the valuation metric. All other cable companies can effectively do the same thing.

    On the leverage point, BT is more leveraged than any cable company out there by any measurable metric. This is not subjective. Won't get wonky on you but the fact the company is worth a lot less than the money it owes should make this a moot point.

    My issue is simply the city is WAY over its head here. The taxpayers will be picking up the tab. Disclosure has been awful/criminal and management even worse. Economically this does not, nor will not make sense.

    It is sort of like hybrid cars or solar power. All very nice to haves (I have a hybrid)...but the economics don't work at the moment. But they eventually will. BT never would have worked. Was based on unrealistic assumptions. Probably one of the main reasons the business plans are tough, but not impossible, to get your hands on. And also why the valuation of the company never seems to get mentioned.

    As for tech successes, yes, I think we all appreciate the fiscal life cycle of these companies. But cable is not new. Not should the tax payers take concentrated equity risks on businesses run by inept civil servants (inept at running tech companies to be specific).

    And finally, on the xenophobe thing...I think we all have the same view on the trolls on the BFP site. But my guess it that you are probably newer to the Queen City than most people on Haik's site. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. You from these parts? I can vouch for Haik and any other (new) north enders .

     
  • At December 23, 2009 12:04 PM, Anonymous jonas said…

    To add to this fun pile...

    Calling BT a "tech company" seems to be a bit of a misnomer. Its a utility. The "tech boom" that was all about quick cash was predicated on utilizing the relatively new medium of the superinterwebernets to generate income based on advertising and what turned out to be almost contentless website based on nothing. Now that we've moved well beyond that and the web has become a somewhat stable environment for commerce and business in general, lo and behold, CNN has stories about the future of companies like Yahoo who for some time have been losing market share because ISPs are no big deal anymore. Email is free. Who's making money online? Social networking sites, media (music, tv, movies), etc. Is that what BT is planning to do? Nothing I've seen suggests as much.

    It is a utility. It is a utility whose money was to be made by competing with a telecom/media GIANT, and betting on the will of people to want to switch. People don't care about ideology, people care about $$$. Which organization has the greatest ability to keep costs down? I'm guessing Comcast. Thus, betting on people choosing BT was always a super risky bet.

    And, who bets with tax payers' money? And why are people ok with that?

     
  • At December 23, 2009 12:14 PM, Blogger JBaker said…

    I think it bears noting that no-one really has a completely accurate valuation, but that there can be some good guesses. One of the BFP trolls indicated their estimate was 20-30 Million, based upon ~8Mil revenue vs. ~5Mil expenditures.

    Nonetheless the banker's point that the value is nowhere near $60M is still salient. I simply am not sure how that translates into not being able to secure financing.

    As for the business plan and mismanagement.. no argument there, it was a travesty. I would rather move forward. Of course it's a viable company, the issue was never revenue, but foolish financing decisions (low ball on the buildout estimate, allowing a violation of the CPG, etc..). None of it actually illegal, just bad management.

    Regarding tech startups: yes I meant Google and the like... I was merely noting that there are surely examples where, in laymans terms, "losing" money (spending it) results in greater successes with time, and IT is clearly one place where this can and does happen.

    I still reserve my right to dismiss and marginalize the opinions of people who are not here NOW. Interesting how folks are quick to present a "resume" of their VT cred, as if that means something to me. Let's be clear, we are talking about my opinion here only: I never suggested Haik moderate the comments, just that I am tired of hearing them. I am touched that whether or not *I* care to read or value anyone's statements matter to you all! How sweet!

    For the record, born in DC (but I don't tell them how to run their city), raised in NJ (I leave them alone too) and have been here 14 years. I own a house in the Old North End. How many of you have the guts to do THAT? ;) LOL jk

    Soooo... Haik did your question about BT/BSD get answered adequately?

     
  • At December 23, 2009 12:35 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    "Haik did your question about BT/BSD get answered adequately?"

    No. According to you Jeanne Collins wrote:

    "We do not get our internet service through them. This $11k annual contract is with Vermont Telephone Company who provides internet access at a price that is less than BT pays for their own internet access."

    ...Soooo, can I get internet from VT Tel via my BT fiber at my house?

     
  • At December 23, 2009 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Interesting how folks are quick to present a "resume" of their VT cred, as if that means something to me.

    Hayzeus Christo, is anyone else here reading the same comments?

    Um, you are the one who tried to call me and Beantown Banker out for not being local. Beantown Banker pays taxes here (by implication) and I do, too. We're both here NOW, though maybe Beantown is here only to ski and swim in the summer, who knows.

    I think what you are tired of hearing are comments you can't refute. Otherwise, you'd spend more time addressing the issues and less time making ad hominem attacks.

    I'm still trying to wrap my head around your effort to suggest that BT is somehow like all the other successful IT start ups there, some of which lost money before making money. Have you ever run a business? The overages alone - note that they still have *not yet reached all of Burlington* - just added, what, 3 cash flow years of expenses onto the books?! Where did my $17 million dollars go? Who made all that money?

    Honestly, tell me how that's possibly viable. I can't think of another successful business who can operate like that. I'm *all for* moving forward and, in fact, I love the "idea" of the publicly owned BT. But right now, it seems like the smart thing to do is stop sending good money after bad.

    I'm not one of those people who complains about Burlington's tax rates. We pay less than most surrounding towns and if I want low taxes, I'd move to a south and accept my children and neighbors being illiterate. But BT's impact on my tax bill is LOOMING LARGE. And I understand the interest in putting Leopold and Kiss on the hook for it.

     
  • At December 23, 2009 1:29 PM, Blogger JBaker said…

    Haik: I think the answer is: you may already. It depends on how BT gets it's internet access... if it's VTEL, then that's what you have, as licensed through BT.

    To note: the rate that the school gets seems to be subsidized by e-rate, so that's how they are able to get a better deal. Not shortcomings in BT's offerings.

    If other ISP's want to provide internet access on the BT FFTH network, then they will have to pay for the use of the fiber network. Not sure if BT will do that for competing ISP's. Maybe you should ask?

     
  • At December 23, 2009 1:45 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    I don't care. I'm probably going to drop my BT service entirely soon.

     
  • At December 23, 2009 2:26 PM, Blogger JBaker said…

    Um, you are the one who tried to call me and Beantown Banker out ... We're both here NOW, though maybe Beantown is here only to ski and swim in the summer, who knows.

    Funny, I don't recall "calling anyone out" or addressing anyone else but the banker, who clarified that he was not only in "beantown". It may be as you say, only to ski, but that's part of it for me: I am deciding the value, for ME, of people's thoughts based upon a variety of factors, including their level of participation in the community. It matters to me. JUST ME.

    I have primarily addressed the issues in my posts here, not sure why you missed that.

    Further clarification of the ISP question from the GM of BT, who I just got off the phone with:

    BT is an ISP provider, and all residential accounts on the BT network currently have to use BT as the ISP.

    Commercial accounts have the possibility of utilizing the "pipe" with various ISP's, including BT.

    By providing a fiber connection to the schools that connects to one point, the district is able to negotiate for a single internet connection, rather than 11 (for each building). This is a cost savings for anyone in Burlington who has multiple sites that need internet, as the single aggregation point makes it possible to interconnect to other networks with no loop fees.

    Please let us all know if you find something cheaper on the residential side!

     
  • At December 23, 2009 4:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Final comment from the banker (me).

    You did call me out, and in doing so called out every non-Burlingtonian (...You are in Boston? This is Burlington VT. Just in case you were lost, or maybe thought we cared about your opinion....).

    The economics do not work. Not a single issue you have brought up has held water from the tax payers' perspective and I think you nailed it when you wrote the following: "I am deciding the value, for ME". Your words.

    I too would LOVE to pay below market rate for a triple play cable system paid for by the entire tax base of the city...even though not everyone can get it and even though the cost of building infrastructure is in no way near its value.

    If you cannot figure out why borrowing $60mm against something worth a fraction of $60mm is a major problem then I think that this thread is dead. There is a reason the city is keeping valuation information away from everyone (even though we supposedly own it in the first place). Be certain, we will all be paying for it though...and the cost will be much greater than your subsidized monthly cable bill.

    Have a great xmas everyone.

    Nice blog Haik.

     
  • At December 24, 2009 10:45 AM, Blogger JBaker said…

    Funny, I always thought "calling out" meant a challenge to fisticuffs or whatever... I simply noted that I don't care about the opinions of people from elsewhere on local matters. And yes that's every non-burlingtonian. Plenty of other things in the world to discuss, my point of view is that *I* don't find the random thoughts of bystanders, wannabes, and armchair quarterbacks to be of any interest.

    Your brilliant analysis notwithstanding, BT will get financing, and will move forward. and the value of a municipal network like this will be proven. It's not a risk to taxpayers, but if you wanna pretend it is, that's fine.

    ps Apparently no one actually knows the valuation info! The "fair market value" I found in BT Exhibit 6 page 8 is used for the calculation of the PILOT, and is only the value of physical assets.. so, as you said, it's not really usable... the actual value is surely much higher. :)

    Of course, a municipally owned telecom network that sticks it to the big players is truly priceless.

    Merry X-Mas and Happy New Year!

     
  • At December 24, 2009 11:06 AM, Anonymous the king of king street said…

    Seriously JBaker...wave the prog flag and move on. BT is not worth the amount borrowed/invested. Not a single point you have brought up with the banker holds water from what I can tell.

    The big players are going to be sticking it to the municipality. Correction. They already have.

    Great editorial in the Free Press today "BT viability panel off to a rough start". Have a read.

     
  • At December 24, 2009 12:05 PM, Blogger JBaker said…

    I will try to read that... I don't generally read the BFP since the writing is of poor quality. Have been a little lately on this topic.

    Consider the flag waved, whatever the color. I hope you are wrong about the outcome, but I bet you are right about that being the alternative.

     
  • At December 24, 2009 3:37 PM, Anonymous Haik's holiday haiku said…

    Jbaker came in hot
    did he use facts? he did not
    carpetbagger doosh

     
  • At December 24, 2009 6:05 PM, Anonymous Haik's holiday haiku said…

    (J)baker came in hot
    did he use facts? he did not
    carpetbagger doosh

     
  • At December 24, 2009 6:16 PM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    We have to keep the J in Jbaker silent to make the syllables equal 5,7,5. And the use of "doosh" might be a little mean, but in form and function, it's a good haiku.

    Thanks. I guess.

    I trust jbaker can take it. You have to have somewhat of a thick skin to run for office in the old north end.

    And I do want to thank Jason for at least stepping up to the plate and trying to make some defense of BT. It makes my blog better.

    I will just say though, that while respecting a local's opinion because he's a local is all well and good, someone's physical presence in the city does not in itself constitute expertise in some things. If that sort of thing were true, then perhaps being able to see Russia from the cosat of Alaska might indeed be a foreign policy credential.

     
  • At December 24, 2009 11:12 PM, Anonymous Farrington all-stAr said…

    H-factor on mike
    hakuing north end shizznat
    merry Xmas b@tch

     
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