The frustration of City of Groton residents over the heavy losses suffered by the city-owned Thames Valley Communications and the plans to almost give it away to stop the financial hemorrhaging is understandable. And if the submission of a petition Wednesday in opposition to the sale is a way of displaying that anger, and buying time to get the public's questions answered, then the petition serves a valid purpose.
But those upset with the pending sale should carefully consider where their efforts may lead. If the sale is significantly delayed, or the buyer reconsiders, the city could find itself stuck with the cable TV and high-speed Internet service that is a proven money loser for Groton Utilities.
The municipally owned utility launched the cable service in 2004, confident it could compete with Comcast for commercial and residential business. The utility borrowed $34 million to build the necessary infrastructure across several towns. But in an increasingly complex and competitive communications market, TVC could never turn a profit, its losses of more than $2 million annually absorbed by Groton Utilities and its electric power division. The city remains stuck with $27.5 million debt.
The City Council has given preliminary approval to sell TVC for a token $150,000 to the lone entity showing interest, CTP Investors LLC, a private investment management firm. The city would retain the debt, which Groton Utilities would pay back over the next 14 years.
Some residents seem particularly upset that city officials did not make them aware of the extent of the losses over the years, but only revealed them when news surfaced of the proposed sale. While information about the financial problems could have been gleaned from various financial reports, city officials never broadcast the difficulties, fearful it would hurt efforts to market TVC and to find a buyer.
It seems to us the sale is the best of poor options, but taxpayers have the right to demand more information about how this happened and explore other alternatives. However, the faster that can happen, probably the better.