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Local Matters: Verizon, Tasers, Traffic Violation, Burton

Will the Deal Go Down?

NH public utilities experts advise against Verizon sale to FairPoint

CONCORD, N.H. - Before Verizon can sell off its landline assets in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire to FairPoint Communications, the proposed deal needs the official thumbs-up from the FCC and the public utilities boards in all three states. But unfortunately for FairPoint, approval in the Granite State appears to be in jeopardy.

Early this month, citing "a combination of financial and other risks," the public advocate for the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission recommended the deal be rejected - at least in its current form. Why? It's too risky for that state's phone and Internet consumers.

The $2.175 billion deal, announced in January, would transfer control of Verizon's New England telephone infrastructure - poles, switches, routers, trucks, etc. - as well as its 3000-strong workforce, to FairPoint Communications of Charlotte, North Carolina. Verizon would retain control of its wireless business in the region. If the deal goes through, FairPoint would become Vermont's largest phone company and the default provider of telephone services.

Supporters of the sale in Vermont say they want a phone company that wants to be here. Verizon has made no secret of its desire to get out of the traditional telephone business. But opponents of the deal counter that FairPoint, the nation's 17th largest telecom company, is biting off more than it can chew.

The unions representing Verizon's workers have been waging a high-profile campaign to scuttle the deal since last summer, even before FairPoint was named as the potential buyer. Among other things, they're concerned FairPoint lacks the financial and technical muscle to honor Verizon's promise of expanding broadband service to 80 percent of Vermont by 2010.

Says Burlington resident Ralph Montefusco, who's heading up the union's "Stop the Sale" campaign, "We only have to win in one of the three states. [FairPoint] has to win in all three."

The Vermont Public Service Board will hold two weeks of hearings on the proposed sale in mid-September.

Ken Picard


Strike Up the Broadband: Will the Verizon-FairPoint deal leave Vermonters well connected . . . or digitally deserted? by Ken Picard, (5/16/07)


Tackling Tasers

VT Attorney General announces review of police use of non-lethal force

MONTPELIER - In the wake of two incidents involving police use of Tasers and a letter from Governor Jim Douglas expressing concern over the weapon, the state Attorney General's Office has announced a statewide review of all law enforcement officers' use of non-lethal force.

The announcement comes on the heels of two highly publicized Tasings by the Brattleboro Police Department. In July, an officer Tased a non-violent protestor chained to a barrel, and earlier this month, Brattleboro police Tased a juvenile at the Brattleboro Retreat hospital. The juvenile was a patient in the hospital's psychiatric unit.

A third incident occurred Aug. 10 - the same day Attorney General William Sorrell's office announced the review - and involved a patient at the Vermont State Hospital. The patient had run into traffic on Interstate 89 in Waterbury prior to being Tased by state police.

"It's early to say what the examination will mean," said Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell. "At this point we're at an information-gathering stage. It's very early in the process."

While he acknowledged receipt of a letter from Gov. Douglas requesting a review of the August incident in Brattleboro, Treadwell said the AG's office is not conducting the examination in response to any specific case.

"This is not just an investigation into the use of Tasers. It's a review of all non-lethal use of force policies," Treadwell said. He conceded, however, that the two Brattleboro Tasings are a particular focus of the investigation. His office will "examine and recommend best practices, policies and procedures regarding the non-lethal use of force" by police, according to a statement released Aug. 10.

State Police Sergeant John Flannigan, a spokesman for the department, said the agency currently has "been using Tasers for a while and we have a very good policy in place." He later suggested that policy could be used as a template across the state, "depending on [the Attorney General's office's] take on it."

Flannigan described Tasers as an "effective tool" officers sometimes view as an alternative to deadly force. When used properly, Tasers can reduce injuries to both officers and the public, Flannigan said.

Treadwell said it's too early in the review process to tell when it will conclude; a report will be issued when it does. "It's certainly not going to be a matter of a year," he said. "It will be a matter of months."

Patrick Ripley


Brattleboro Stunned by Police Use of Tasers on Protestors by Ken Picard, (8/1/07).


"Long Arm" Lassos Man

Burlington court settles 28-year-old traffic violation

BURLINGTON - An Ohio man learned the law is never far behind when a traffic ticket issued by Burlington police caught up with him this week, almost 30 years after being issued.

Robert Alexander, 78, of Westlake, Ohio, was issued a ticket for driving with four people in the front seat of his pickup truck on Oct. 13, 1978. He paid the $15 ticket by mail on Aug. 20, 2007.

"I've never seen a ticket like this before," says Deputy Chief Mike Schirling, a spokesman for the Burlington Police Department.

Schirling explains that a new nationwide automated system has the ability to connect information from Department of Motor Vehicles records across the country. He surmises Alexander went to his local DMV to renew his license and was told he could not until he took care of his ticket in Vermont.

Alexander was 49 when he was issued the ticket.

Patrick Ripley


PETA Bags Burton

Animal rights group takes action, halts company's use of animal fur

BURLINGTON - When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals found out Burton Snowboards was using animal fur to trim its clothing, they called in the dogs and Burton quickly decided to faux-get-about-it.

Just weeks after PETA launched an advocacy campaign against the Burlington-based company's use of animal fur, the company agreed to pull all real fur products from its fall line.

The move came only after PETA2, the organization's youth activist division, posted "action alerts" on its website urging members to call and email the company, said Pulin Modi, a spokesman for PETA2. "Once they started getting emails and phone calls, they were pretty quick to react," he said.

But Burton's decision to pull upwards of 900 items from its Mark XIII line did not come easily, according to Modi. PETA contacted Burton in January 2006 - when it first learned about its use of real fur - to request a meeting with the company. After about a year and a half of email correspondence and phone calls with Scott Barrett - Burton's legal council - PETA decided to take the matter into their own hands, Modi said.

"The bottom line was, they weren't taking the issue seriously," he charged. "There was definitely some hesitation. A year and a half doesn't just go by."

PETA2 posted the action alert on its website June 14. By June 26 Burton had contacted PETA saying the company officially agreed to stop using real fur by the end of July, Modi said. "It's just such a positive thing," he added, "especially for a company like Burton that prides itself on being environmentally friendly."

A message left at Burton's press office was not returned.

Patrick Ripley

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