State dissatisfied with Adelphia’s overdue expansion

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(Host) Vermont’s main cable television company is already in trouble with state regulators for its failure to expand coverage to rural areas of Vermont. Now the state department that represents utility customers says it’s not satisfied with the latest offer from Adelphia Cable Communications Company.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Adelphia is the Pennsylvania based company that provides cable and high speed Internet service to tens of thousands of Vermonters.

Three years ago, as part of a renewal of its license to operate in Vermont, Adelphia promised to upgrade its service and build an additional 1,200 hundred miles of cable. The state Public Service Board – the three member panel that regulates utilities – said the new broadband Internet service was a key part of Vermont’s economic infrastructure.

But the build-out didn’t happen. The board in April said Adelphia was long overdue on its commitment. Adelphia has since been negotiating with the Department of Public Service, the agency that represents utility customers.

Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says the company offered to build 200 miles of new service a year over four years. He says that’s not acceptable, because it leaves too many Vermonters without essential cable and broadband Internet services.

(O’Brien) “So that’s why we’re at any impasse, because there’s a lot of residences here that won’t be served that have been promised services by the company and by the state. So right now we’re not comfortable accepting a reduced commitment by Adelphia.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas has said broadband Internet service is a fundamental part of economic development. O’Brien says the state was counting on Adelphia to bring the fast Internet service to rural areas.

(O’Brien) “I can’t stress enough how important it is. The governor is a 100% right. This is a critical need for the state. It’s important because of economic development. There’s a lot of people that today earn their living working at home, or between home and the office. So having high-speed Internet access is a big issue.”

(Dillon) Adelphia’s Vermont manager was out of town and wasn’t available for a response. But in a letter to the Public Service Board, the company said it disagreed with the board’s order requiring it to finish the 1,200 hundred miles of cable.

The company is now in bankruptcy, but it told the board it’s prepared to spend $5 million a year in Vermont to build 200 miles of service over four years. O’Brien says he realizes the company faces financial troubles.

(O’Brien) “I think there is some recognition on our part that the company is in bankruptcy, of course. And there are some things they have to navigate. But I would not allow that to completely alter what is an obligation to the state and these customers.”

(Dillon) Adelphia also said if it couldn’t reach an agreement with the state, it would file an appeal in federal court by August 11.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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