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Despite past failure, Minnesota fiber optic project moves forward

By Donna Donowitz
January 3, 2011
Fiber optic cable can completely turn around a city or region’s prospects. It should come as no surprise that companies and entrepreneurs alike seek to build these high speed internet networks. Tim Nulty, CEO of National Public Broadband, recently proposed such a plan.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, Nulty’s plans to build a $70 million fiber optic network in Minnesota that would provide broadband connectivity to all Lake County and a significant portion of St. Louis County in that state. However, he is currently facing scrutiny over a similar plan he proposed in 2002.

Eight years ago, Nulty's plans to build a fiber optic network in Burlington, Vermont, fell through. His company, Burlington Telecom, still owes $33 million in debt to CitiCapital over the project and could soon be repossessed.

Nulty insists the company’s failures were not his doing and that it was on track to make a profit when he left it in 2007.

However, some are not convinced. “Our concern is this could be Burlington round two here, and it’s a bad deal when you have taxpayers who could be on the hook,” said Jonathan Blake, vice president of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, to the News Tribune.

Construction of the Burlington Fiber Optic network began in 2005. Nulty expected it to begin turning a profit by 2007, which he now says was unrealistic.

The new fiber optic project is moving forward, regardless of what happened in the past. The project is being supported with $66 million in federal funds and $4 million in bonds issued by Lake County.

Nulty stands by the project. “I’m not doing this to get rich. I’m doing it because I believe in it,” he said. “If they come to me and say ‘you’re too hot right now, and you’ve become too much of a lightning rod,’ I’ll say ‘no problem and good luck.’”

Other fiber optic cable projects have thrived, thanks largely to corporate funding. Time Warner recently announced plans to add to its fiber optic network in Maine, while Verizon recently expanded its fiber optic network in western Massachusetts.


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