Burlington plans to launch municipal cable TV service

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(Host) The city of Burlington wants to become the first municipality in the state to enter the cable TV business. But its potential rival, Adelphia Communications, says it’s worried about unfair competition and potential subsidies from the city. The Public Service Board will hold a hearing on the case Wednesday night.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Burlington already has an extensive fiber optic network that can handle vast amounts of data and telephone traffic.

Brendan Keliher, the city’s chief administrative officer, says the city wants to compete with Adelphia Communications for cable customers.

(Keliher) “We believe we can provide service that’s at least as better, but actually more sophisticated than the service they currently provide.”

(Dillon) Adelphia is the state’s biggest cable provider, with roughly 10,000 customers in Burlington, and 113,000 statewide.

The company has asked the Public Service Board to intervene in the case. Kelleher says Adelphia doesn’t want to lose business in the state’s largest city.

(Keliher) “Why are they afraid of competition? They’ve enjoyed a monopoly situation for a number of years. If the quality of their service and their pricing is competitive, then they probably will stay in business.”

(Dillon) But Adelphia says it welcomes the competition, so long as it’s on a level playing field. Lisa Birmingham, the Adelphia spokeswoman, says there’s a danger that a city-owned cable company will enjoy unfair subsidies.

(Birmingham) “Our reason for intervening is to make sure that the board has made a determination that the project has been planned well enough to ensure that there haven’t been nor will there be cross-subsidies and to ensure that there are competitive, neutral terms.”

(Dillon) Birmingham says she understand the argument that competition could drive down rates or get companies to offer more service. But she suggests that Burlington may lack the expertise to run a sophisticated cable TV service.

(Birmingham) “One of the significant differences between the video business and say the voice business is customer service, the ability to fix a signal if it’s not coming in correctly to make sure the programming is there. So customer service is part of the added value.”

(Dillon) City officials say they plan to offer an open fiber optic system. Keliher says it’s like a toll road: Any provider can use the network for a price. The Public Service Board will hold a public hearing on the case Wednesday night in Burlington City Hall.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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