Sanders says Congress should impose regulation on cable TV industry

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(Host) Many subscribers are angry with changes Comcast has made in its Vermont cable television lineup.

And Senator Bernie Sanders is one of them.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, Sanders wants Congress to do something about it.

(Sneyd) Senator Sanders says he’s heard from hundreds of Vermonters who are unhappy about changes in their Comcast cable TV service.

The company has reduced the number of channels in its basic package.

Sanders has pressured Comcast to reverse course.

(Sanders) “It’s an issue that I think affects millions and millions of people. You know some people say, `It’s television. People can live without TV.’ But the truth of the matter is if you want to know what’s going on in this world, if you’re old and you can’t afford to go to the movies or the show and you get your entertainment via television, it is important that people have access to TV at a rate that they can afford.”

(Sneyd) Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman says the company is trying to keep up with the industry.

(Goodman) “There is a digital revolution under way.”

(Sneyd) Comcast is no longer just a cable company. It also sells high-speed Internet access, telephone services, video-on-demand, and high definition television.

The most efficient way of getting all those services into homes is with a digital signal.

Comcast has tried to encourage customers to shift to digital by offering free converter boxes. Think of the cable leading into your house as a pipeline. An analog signal takes a lot of space on that pipeline – the same amount that three HD channels and 10 digital signals do.

Comcast won’t cut the price for the reduced basic analog service. Goodman says many of its competitors don’t go as far as Comcast does.

(Goodman) “Comcast continues to offer an analog option to customers, particularly basic cable. For those that want to just watch broadcasters and local community stations, they can continue to do so.”

(Sneyd) Sanders doesn’t accept that.

He says Comcast has a virtual monopoly on cable television service in Vermont and should be regulated.

(Sanders) “My own view is that given the fact Comcast operates in a monopoly situation in the vast majority of towns in the state of Vermont, given the reality that Congress against my vote deregulated cable television back in 1996, we’re going to need national legislation to protect low and moderate income people so that they can at least get cable television at a reasonable price.”

(Sneyd) Sanders expects to introduce a bill next year. He would give state public utilities commissions the power to approve or reject cable TV rate increases or service changes.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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