Catching up on some exciting episodes…
But before we get into this saga, some regulatory basics for the non-Vermonters:
- Franchise agreements–or Certificates of Public Good (CPG)–are settled at state level by the VT regulatory agency, the Public Service Board.
- Comcast is the main cable provider for most of the state, with one area primarily served by Charter/Spectrum and a handful of telco overbuilders.
- VAN brings together its members from the 26 Access Media Organizations (AMOs) to weigh in on the periodic CPG dockets as a Party; their evidence and testimony get respect in these proceedings.
2017 Comcast CPG: A New Hope
The proceeding to renew Comcast’s CPG was started in June 2014 as Docket 8301 and apparently concluded last January. Much of VAN’s work on this was recalled when then-President Lisa Byer was nominated for (and received) the Chuck Sherwood Leadership Award last November. “The new CPG was favorable in many aspects to community access,” according to Kevin Christopher’s report to ACM-NE last May. People capable of wading through legal language can read the details in its Final Order as posted on the VAN website.
Very briefly, the new certificate:
- requires Comcast “to construct 550 miles of line extensions to currently unserved areas of the state” over the next 11 years
- requires AMO programming on Comcast’s interactive programming guide, at company expense
- “require[s] Comcast at its expense to provide and maintain live origination capabilities at eligible community sites located within 500 feet of Comcast’s cable plant….” This includes notifying community institutions if they are eligible for this capability
- supports continued, adequate capital funding for the AMOs.
The regulatory board does not call for any AMO/PEG programming in High Definition yet but “the Board will open a proceeding related to the activation of HD PEG channels on Comcast’s systems in Vermont upon a filed request made at least two years from today.” They also seem to look favorably on working toward a statewide PEG channel. Comcast still has to work with any AMO before taking action on PEG channel reassignment. And they still have to provide “commercial class” internet service to the AMOs, so their file-sharing can go on.
There is no explicit support for preserving a level of quality for PEG channels as technology changes—something VAN requested in the kind of “nondiscriminatory” language developed since 2006-07 as the nature of AT&T’s U-Verse channel 99 was revealed across the land. And getting AMO programming on Comcast’s VOD service is out for now.
The Empire Strikes Back
With the new and retained conditions in the CPG, Kevin reported, “Comcast filed a motion to Alter or Amend Judgment to the order. VAN responded in turn by filing opposition to that motion. We’re all currently awaiting a final order which will then give us a clearer sense of what’s next. Options include appeal to the VT Supreme Court or federal appeals court or some sort of out-of-court negotiation/settlement with the State and Comcast. As we wait, VAN is busy figuring out how to best collect support, financial and otherwise, from allies inside and outside of Vermont.”
Besides all that
The VAN Annual Meeting was held on May 5 at Community Access Television in White River Junction, with over 70 people in attendance. ACM-NE chair Karen Hayden went there from her home in Methuen MA and said a few words. Board members were elected, and VAN held a short reorganization meeting. The current VAN Board is:
Kevin Christopher, President, Lake Champlain Access TV, Colchester
Lisa Byer, Vice President, Catamount Access TV, Bennington
Kurt Broderson, Secretary, Middlebury Community TV, Middlebury
Seth Mobley, Treasurer, Vermont Community Access Media, Burlington
Angelike Contis, Director, Mt. Mansfield Access TV, Richmond
Tammie Reilly, Director, Greater Northshire Access TV, Sunderland
Cor Trowbridge, Director, Brattleboro Community TV, Brattleboro
The ACM Northeast Regional Board welcomes Tammie Reilly as she takes Kevin’s place representing Vermont this June.