Marshall, the Shumlin administration’s broadband “czar,” takes job with VTel

Karen Marshall, who spearheaded Gov. Peter Shumlin’s universal broadband expansion efforts, has taken a job with one of the telecommunications companies she was charged with overseeing.

Marshall will be the new president of VTel Data Network.

Michel Guité, chairman of VTel, said in a statement that Marshall has “a unique set of leadership skills to enhance the capacity of our team.”

Karen Marshall, chief of ConnectVT. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

Karen Marshall, chief of ConnectVT. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

The company, based in Springfield, received $116 million in federal stimulus grants in 2011 for broadband expansion in rural, underserved areas of the state.

“VTel is working very hard to build and deliver world class voice, video, wired and wireless data services within very demanding time commitments to federal and state partners,” Guité said. “Karen’s international experience in Canada and the United States make her a tremendous asset to lead development of our multi-state Canada-U.S. fiber network, and to help meet our overall build requirements.”

VTel is an independent telephone company with an optical fiber network in Vermont with connections to New York City, Boston and Montreal.

Marshall has had a long career in the private sector. She is a former executive for Clear Channel Radio, and at one time, she worked as an advertising executive for Comcast, a cable company that offers broadband service. Before joining the Shumlin administration, Marshall worked as a consultant. She also served briefly as the head of SecureShred, the document destruction company. She made $115,000 a year as chief of ConnectVT.

Her job was to ensure that Shumlin’s campaign pledge to extend universal broadband access to “every last mile” by 2013 is on track. In at least four press conferences over the last two years, the Shumlin administration has taken pains to reassure the public that VTel is moving ahead with the expansion.

Shumlin launched ConnectVT, shortly after he took office, and Marshall was the standalone entity’s sole employee. She had no budget per se and no employees to manage. Her office was on the Fifth Floor of the Pavilion building, where the governor’s closest advisors work.

In an interview, Marshall described her job as “master facilitator.” But the one-woman arm of state government also served as a gadfly-style enforcer: Her job has been to ensure that state and federal agencies, private companies and Vermont municipalities work together to meet the governor’s 2013 deadline.

The VTel project is key to that effort. No other company has received as much federal funding. ECFiber, a fiber-optic company, Burlington Telecomm and FairPoint are also expanding broadband in the state.

ConnectVT is widely viewed as Shumlin’s alternative to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, which had been dominated by former Gov. Jim Douglas appointees, only two of which remain on the board. After four years of state funding, the authority failed to make much progress on broadband expansion, in part because of corporate disinterest in investing in expensive rural broadband development. It’s only been in the last few years that private companies were awarded enough federal funding to make extending broadband access to very rural parts of the state financially viable.

Marshall is the second Shumlin official this week to take a job in private industry. Alex MacLean, the governor’s chief of staff, is now working for Bill Stenger, the mastermind behind the enormous Northeast Kingdom economic expansion project funded with EB-5 visa program.

Correction: The VTA board is now comprised mostly of Shumlin appointees.

Anne Galloway

Comments

  1. Randy Koch :

    The whoosh and flicker of the revolving door must be getting to me. It’s worse than living right under a wind turbine! In my fuddled state, it almost seems wrong for folk to race from the role of “public servant” to private employee with such indecent haste. Isn’t it time to install some kind of ethics code to put an end to this crass careerism? Or have we entered a new Corporations-Are-Us age and now it doesn’t matter if you’re working for the state or the private sector–they’ve become pretty much the same thing.

  2. Remember Baker :

    Now all those millions and millions of free tax-payer dollars GIVEN to VTel by the gov’t make sense! No wonder Marshall made the multiple grants all go to one place… setting herself up. Travesty that all that money has been poured into one entity (and one led by a sketchy character). Oy VT. I wish Shumlin showed better leadership on this one. I guess he’s fully beholden to VTel and GMP.

  3. Josh Fitzhugh :

    The article should address whether Marshall is covered by a conflict of interest policy and whether or not it applies. To my knowledge every governor since Kunin has had such a policy.

  4. mike spillane :

    I never got a good answer as to why vtel has seemed to get more from the state than companies like fairpoint-now I see why….this is such a conflict that someone should have the A/G office look into this—but they work for for the bear whisperer as well –

  5. Ralph Colin :

    Given the person to whom all these individuals reported, why are you surprised at these developments? Might it even be that the “boss” facilitated some of these switcheroos?
    The tentacles of control and influence reach wide and deep.

  6. I hesitate to suggest any impropriety here, but I do want to make sure I have my facts straight:

    1. FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker left her post last year to work for Comcast, shortly after approving a merger between NBC and Comcast.
    2. The FCC and the VTA have granted VTel millions upon millions of dollars to build a wireless network that has thus far added no new (previously unserved) subscribers.
    3. Karen Marshall helped facilitate a “marriage” between Green Mountain Power and VTel that allows GMP to piggyback on VTels microwave towers.
    4. Karen Marshall used to work for Comcast and ClearChannel.
    5. The FCC gets to decide what levels of RF emissions are safe for public exposure and has not updated those thermal-based “guidelines” in nearly two decades, despite ample evidence that a multitude of non-thermal health effects exist.

  7. Chris Miller :

    This smells bad. It sure dashes my naive hope that Vermont could somehow escape this kind of cronyism.

  8. Jim Barrett :

    It is always wonderful to see broadband expanded so good Vermonters can use their computers even though they chose to live where they do. In addition, we are told that a huge population in Vermont (and growing) is going to bed hungry and I just wonder how priorities are set when that is the case.

  9. I think this is wonderful news. We will never know whether there was any private deal between Guite and Marshall that read “help us get the $116million in government money and you can have a job when the ConnectVT ride is over.” But it looks like the VTel effort to build the “digital canopy” (as the Governor put it) is sputtering to a premature end. I’m sure Ms. Marshall will find a way to contribute to VTel’s next great money-making scheme.

  10. Irv Thomae :

    No Matt, you don’t have your facts quite straight. I’m hardly a fan of the VTel deal(s), but VTel’s grant to build its “wireless canopy” came not from the FCC (a regulatory agency) but the Rural Utilities Service, a branch of the US Agriculture Dept. It is true that the VTA has also given VTel some additional money – apparently to patch a few holes in that canopy’s coverage as first proposed – but on a much smaller scale – maybe a couple million dollars in all.

    • Thanks Irv, both for that correction and your work on community-based broadband.

      To provide a little more context:

      VTel recently “won” $2 million as part of the FCC’s Mobility Fund Auction.

      The original $100+ million was awarded by the RUS/USDA, although it was clearly due to VTel’s understanding of the goals of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which some would argue, aims to put too many eggs in the wireless basket.

      It is also noteworthy that Jonathan Adelstein, the former Administrator of RUS/USDA, who was on hand for the grant/loan announcement 2 years ago was an FCC Commissioner from 2002-2009 and has recently been hired as President and CEO of the PCIA (Personal Communications Industry Association, aka the Wireless Infrastructure Association).

      http://vtdigger.org/2010/09/26/vtel-promises-10-rates-fiber-optic-service-to-anchor-institutions/
      http://www.pcia.com/pcia-press-releases/533-pcia-names-jonathan-adelstein-president-a-ceo-

      As mentioned above, VTel has received a number of grants from the VTA. As far as I am aware, there were three:

      $2 million in March 2011
      $1.35 million in September 2012
      $5 million in December 2012

      • katherine Smith :

        The fact that someone can work for the government of Vermont, and help steer 8.35 million (?! Is this true?) dollars of Vermont taxpayer dollars into the coffers of a private company, and then abruptly take a job with that company, seems very corrupt to me. If it’s not illegal, it ought to be.

  11. Randy Koch :

    Here’s an idea: instead of worrying about conflicts of interest, let’s be proud of them! After all, the Vermont citizenry? GazMet? VTel? Where does one stop and the other start anyway?

    So if Adm officials are working on the Vtel or GazMet team while technically drawing a salary from the state, let them advertise it! Let them proudly wear GazMet baseball caps, tee shirts, tie clips, earrings. Then if there’s ever a time during the day when they are actually working for the public, they can just literally change hats for a few moments.

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