State asks why Adelphia hasn’t extended rural service

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(Host) State regulators are investigating why Vermont’s main cable television company has failed to extend service to rural areas as the state has ordered. Meanwhile, the state office that represents utility customers says it may try to revoke Adelphia’s license to operate, if the company continues to violate the state orders.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Three times over the last several years, the Public Service Board has ordered Adelphia Cable Communications to upgrade its service and build an additional 1,200 miles of cable. The board, which regulates utilities in Vermont, says the cable service and new broadband Internet service are key parts of the state’s economic infrastructure. The company agreed to the build-out when it won a new license to operate in Vermont.

But Adelphia is long overdue on its promises. And this week, the Board launched a formal investigation into the company’s apparent failure to comply with its orders. Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien heads the state department that represents consumers before the board. He’s clearly frustrated with the cable company.

(O’Brien) “This is simply the basic bargain that we have with a cable company: that in return for an exclusive franchise in these territories that they meet the build-out per mile as promised. This has been going on for four or five years. Now, I believe, that the company has been making promises, not fulfilling them, having the board and department call them on it, and then having them make subsequent promises and not fulfill it.”

(Dillon) Adelphia is in bankruptcy and says it can’t meet the state requirement for the 1,200 miles of new cable. But O’Brien says the company has failed to construct the 750 miles it says it can afford. Instead, he says the company chose to challenge the state in federal court.

O’Brien says the state may be forced to revoke Adelphia’s license to do business here – called a certificate of public good.

(O’Brien) ‘That’s why you have a certificate of public good and a franchise license with the state. And that’s why the state has the means, if there is non-performance to take the license. And for some reason, this company doesn’t believe we’re willing to do that.”

(Dillon) Robert Snowdon, Adelphia’s Vermont manager, says the company has made a good faith effort to extend its service.

(Snowdon) We are looking to make sure we serve our customers. We recognize the importance of providing cable television and high speed data access to as many residents in our service area as possible. However, such access needs to be balanced against the cost of providing the service, and the financial constraints facing many telecom companies today, including Adelphia.

(Dillon) The Public Service Board will hold a preliminary hearing on the Adelphia case on September 5.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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