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February 04, 2014

Burlington Telecom Deal Could Be Big Win for Weinberger — And for Taxpayers?


The administration of Mayor Miro Weinberger appears to have negotiated a good deal for the city in the proposed $10.5 million settlement of Citibank's $33.5 million lawsuit over troubles at Burlington Telecom.

While the settlement would pay off the city-owned utility's debt to Citibank, it does not immediately reimburse taxpayers for an additional $16.9 million improperly spent by BT — although Weinberger said in announcing the deal Monday that it could eventually lead to at least partial reimbursement.

And the settlement may eventually come at the price of ceding control of the city-owned utility to private interests, as well as requiring taxpayers to cover at least a portion of the $1.3 million city contribution to the settlement.

The plan unveiled Monday will likely lead to the city ceding majority ownership to an outside partner or partners  within four years, Weinberger said. While corporate interests would be most likely to have the necessary cash, the local group working to form a telecom co-op could conceivably emerge as the new owner, Weinberger said.

Alan Matson, a leader of the co-op effort, said in an interview that his group will seek to “seize this opportunity” to keep BT in local hands and under democratic control. But the fledgling co-op, which has so far raised less than $300,000 from supporters, will have to achieve a stunning financial breakthrough in order to come up with the $6 million “bridge loan” the city needs to pay off part of its debt to Citibank. 

Weinberger said at the news conference that “investment banks” would be the likeliest source of the bridge financing. 

Continue reading "Burlington Telecom Deal Could Be Big Win for Weinberger — And for Taxpayers?" »

February 01, 2014

J. Craig Venter, Pioneering Genome Scientist, to Speak at Norwich University

2011 photo of J. Craig Venter from Wikimedia Commons

For J. Craig Venter, the sky isn't the limit, but Mars might be. The 67-year-old biologist and entrepeneur first mapped the human genome in the late 1990s using a technique he invented and called "shotgun sequencing." A decade later, in 2010, one of his organizations, Synthetic Genomics, became the first to develop "synthetic life," essentially fabricating a strand of DNA that contained the entire genome of a bacteria cell. 

Now, as Venter writes about in his new book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, his organization is researching potential applications for the fledgling field of synthetic biology. They range from straightforward to totally outlandish: crafting better vaccines or more efficient sources of nutrition; cleaning water and air; and equipping NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover with DNA-sequencing techology that could digitally map Martian genomes and beam them back to Earth for re-creation in labs. 

J-craig-venter-life-speed-light-double-helix-dawn-38It wouldn't be the first time Venter has looked beyond Earth to solve our scientific riddles. For the last six years, he and other scientists have crisscrossed 80,000 miles of sea in his private yacht, the Sorcerer II. That project, known as the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition, has led to the discovery of hundreds of new species of microbes, as well as millions of genetic base pairs and a couple thousand new families of proteins.

Venter will speak about his new book at Norwich University on Monday, February 3 (details below). In advance of that lecture, we spoke with him by phone about a few of his accomplishments, as well the state of science in the U.S.

SEVEN DAYS: Since developing the first synthetic cell in 2010, you’ve said that a “vision is being borne out” for how this technology can help us create better vaccines, biofuels, cleaner water, more abundant sources of food, etc. Where do you see that vision being borne out now, and what are some developments we could feasibly see in the next five years?


J. CRAIG VENTER: Well, those are all areas that we’re actively working in at Synthetic Genomics, and it’s not clear yet where the fastest applications will be. But I think the vaccine area might be one of them, certainly based on immediate needs. New flu strains are emerging in China and other places, and the number of deaths from flu are starting to mount in the U.S., so I think it’s all very critical for new developments.


Continue reading "J. Craig Venter, Pioneering Genome Scientist, to Speak at Norwich University" »

January 22, 2014

Burlington's 'Civic Cloud' Wins $35K Grant From the Knight Foundation

800px-Cisco-Gigabit-Switch-Router-Performance-Route-Processor-0aEarlier this month, dubbed Burlington one of the most promising tech hubs to watch in 2014; today, an innovative coalition of Vermont groups calling itself the Civic Cloud Collaborative demonstrated why. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today that it's awarding the Collaborative a $35,000 grant from its Prototype Fund.

The coalition will use the funding to develop an online space — a so-called “Civic Cloud” — for community-minded, nonprofit entities to expand their digital footprint. Members of the Collaborative include the civic-hacking group Code for BTV, the public-access television station CCTV Center for Media and Democracy and the web-based music platform Big Heavy World

In an email to Seven Days, Big Heavy World executive director James Lockridge explained that the Civic Cloud is essentially "an internet makerspace."

Continue reading "Burlington's 'Civic Cloud' Wins $35K Grant From the Knight Foundation" »

November 20, 2013

This Week's Issue: Union Drives, Big-Money Developers and a Long Time in the Clink

112013-coverAnother week, another Wednesday, another Seven Days. Here's this week's lineup of news and politics stories:

Pick up this issue in print, online or on the iOS app.

November 06, 2013

This Week's Issue: Little Italy, Big Prisons and a Band Called Phish

Cover-110613Happy November, everyone. If you're cooped up inside bemoaning the chill in the air and the absence of sunlight, hey, more time for reading Seven Days. And more time for a couch tour, if you're a Phish-head — our own Paul Heintz took a break from politics this week to look back at the Vermont band's 30 years on the jam circuit. Once you're finished with that long read, here are this week's newsy stories:

Read it all in print, online or on the iOS app.

October 30, 2013

This Week's Issue: Hunting Trouble, Prison Sex and an M.I.A. Delegation

Cover103013While you're putting together your Halloween getup tonight — bonus candy for anyone in a homemade F-35 costume — give this week's news and politics stories in Seven Days a read. Here's what you'll find.

Pick up this week's issue in print, online or on the app. Finally, go Sox.

October 23, 2013

This Week's Issue: Front Porch Forum's Banhammer; Bernie for Prez 2016?


This week's issue of Seven Days gets into the Halloween spirit, so grab a growler of Donovan's Red and sit down with these news and politics stories:

Get this week's issue on newsstands — that creepy zombie gas-mask thing is hard to miss — at, or on the iOS app.

October 17, 2013

This Week's Issue: The State of Tech in Vermont


The Vermont Tech Jam comes to Burlington this Friday and Saturday, and Seven Days is marking the occasion with a package of technology-focused stories in this week's issue. Read about the world-leading companies that call Vermont home, one of iTunes' most popular kids podcasts, and an eerily intelligent robot that lives in Lincoln.

If you're looking for something even newsier, we've got that, too.

Get this week's issue on paper, online or on the app.

October 15, 2013

Homemade Health Exchange App Wins HackVT Competition

HackVT 2013 - Team Galenerds
Left to right: Matt Woodside, Michael Commo, Michael Tamlyn, Drew Johnson

As the state moves closer to throwing the switch on health care reform in January, Vermonters are hopping online to use the Vermont Health Connect website. The new exchange, which has taken months and millions of dollars to build, displays all of the plan options and features a calculator that tallies what subsidies you may be eligible to receive.

But what if you just want to know how your asthma medication will affect your potential insurance rates? Or how much you can expect to pay if your child breaks her foot? Vermont Health Connect might not be able to answer quick and dirty questions like that — but an app built in 24 hours by volunteers could.

A team of employees from a Burlington-based health care software firm built just such a thing during last weekend’s third annual HackVT, a hackathon hosted at MyWebGrocer’s Champlain Mill HQ in Winooski. Thirty-one teams of participants stayed up all night to code some kind of Vermont-themed app in 24 hours. This year’s projects included a mobile app to navigate state parks, a "livability index" for Vermont cities and towns and an app to help users learn healthy food and exercise habits — oh hey, that last one was the app that my team built, full disclosure.

But the winner was a "Health Connect Scenario Calculator," built by a team of Galen Healthcare employees calling themselves the "Galenerds." The app allows prospective health care buyers to compare the costs of different levels of insurance under the exchange — plus the cost of not having insurance — based on a user-selected combination of scenarios and medical events. Are you single, making $40,000 a year and want to know what it would cost if you got in a car crash? The app can help you figure that out. Married and planning to get pregnant? You can input those options, too.

Continue reading "Homemade Health Exchange App Wins HackVT Competition" »

October 11, 2013

Burlington Telecom's "Cable Advisory Council" Hit by Wave of Resignations

250LM-BTWanted: a few good citizens to help guide and monitor Burlington Telecom, the Queen City's financially troubled, city-owned telecommunications network.

The latest BT drama concerns its Cable Advisory Council, a volunteer body established under the terms of the 2005 state license that regulates the municipal telecom. The council's chairman and one of its members recently resigned, and both complained in subsequent interviews about a lack of cooperation on the part of BT's management. A third member, conservative bankroller Lenore Broughton, quit in August.

That leaves only two seats currently occupied on a council that is authorized to include up to 15 members. BT has been advertising for council recruits on its website for the past few months, but "we've had limited luck attracting members," says Stephen Barraclough, the utility's general manager.

Burlington physician Jeffrey Kaufman says he resigned as chair in part because the advisory council was "marginalized, excluded, dictated to" by Barraclough. The BT manager exhibited a "negative attitude" toward the council by failing to meet requests for information, Kaufman adds.

Continue reading "Burlington Telecom's "Cable Advisory Council" Hit by Wave of Resignations" »

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