Sale of Thames Valley Communications OK'd by Groton City Council

Groton - The City Council on Monday voted unanimously to sell the state's only municipally owned cable and Internet company and sever ties to a business that has been losing millions of dollars a year since it was launched in 2004.

Thames Valley Communications will be sold to CTP Investors LLC, a private investment management firm, for $150,000 unless a better offer comes forward before the end of the year. The company, which touts itself as a firm specializing in building broadband and cable and wireless businesses, is expected to continue services to the five towns now served by TVC.

"We've got to get out from under this debt," said council member David Hale. "The bond rating hinges on whether we have an exit strategy... to get out of this fiasco."

Mayor Marian Galbraith said the sale was the only way to halt mounting operating losses, which in recent years have averaged more than $2.5 million a year. TVC operates as a subsidiary of Groton Utilities, which has absorbed the losses into their budget and will shoulder the burden of the remaining $27.5 million in debt used to establish TVC.

Without an investment in newer technology, the losses likely would continue, and the city was not willing to put up any more money, Galbraith said.

The debt, along with a lack of information released about TVC finances, has led to opposition to the sale. Many of people who spoke at Monday's meeting argued that the council should postpone the sale and perhaps wait for a better offer. Some even threatened an investigation by the state's attorney's office.

After his first petition was rejected on technical grounds, Michael Boucher said he had gathered more than 200 signatures from people opposed to the sale of TVC, which he referred to as a "giant slush fund with no taxpayer oversight."

But Galbraith said any delay could jeopardize the sale and the jobs of the 23 employees. She was adamant the city had "no unsavory intent," for holding closed-door meetings in the past to discuss TVC finances. She said the few who have been most vocally opposed to the sale have also been spreading misinformation.

"This is standard business practice," Galbraith said of the closed door meetings. "There is no ulterior motive. This is a company that needs a financial capital investment. This is a company that has a bright future."

In November, CTP President Bill Pearson issued a statement indicating there were plans to build the company, which is based at the city municipal building. The city has offered to rent the space for free for the first year, half price in the second year and for $34,000 a year in the third and subsequent years.

Transfer of ownership of TVC is planned for beginning of the new year.

g.smith@theday.com

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