Comcast, RETN Settle Differences

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(Host) The Comcast cable company and a Chittenden County public access TV station have settled their differences and signed a new five-year contract.

Comcast is still negotiating with other local access organizations over costs and financial issues.

The providers say the talks have been difficult as the cable company tries to win financial concessions.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Like other public access providers, the Regional Education Television Network gets funding from the cable company to run its educational service.

But last January Comcast brought a complaint to the Public Service Board, charging the Chittenden County non-profit with financial mismanagement.

RETN agreed to a financial audit – which turned up no serious problems. So the two sides mutually agreed to dismiss the case. Under the settlement, RETN promised to tighten some internal financial controls, and Comcast agreed to a new five year contract.

But the year-long litigation left a bitter aftermath for public access providers. They say Comcast is trying to micromanage their organizations.

(Chapman) Comcast is a very large and profitable company and they’re in a process of negotiating with small, non-profits in the state of Vermont who don’t necessarily have the resources to be able to go up against a large corporation like that.

(Dillon) Rob Chapman is president of the Vermont Access Network, which represents the local access stations. He says Comcast took a hard line in its dealings with RETN.

(Chapman) It was a unique way to go about it, sort of making the accusation and then asking for the audit. I think it would have been simpler to ask for the audit first, and much less expensive. The whole process itself went on for a very extended amount of time and got involved at the Public Service Board, when there is a process already in place where Comcast could have asked for the audit and it would have been extremely less expensive.

(Dillon) Comcast spokeswoman Laura Brubacher says the company has signed new contracts with four access organizations in Vermont. Brubacher read a prepared statement that says Comcast is still negotiating with a handful of others.

(Brubacher) We’re committed to reaching agreements that meet the programming related community access needs for these communities that we serve in Vermont.

(Dillon) Comcast spends about $4.4 million to support 22 public access providers in Vermont.

Brubacher says each contract is negotiated on a case-by-case basis, so the RETN settlement is not necessarily a model for other agreements.

(Brubacher) Basically each communities’ programming needs and each individual agreement differs according to that community.

(Dillon) The public access providers say more cases could go to the Public Service Board if the negotiations reach a deadlock.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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