The ongoing turf war battle between national telecom giant Comcast and Vermont's community access television stations is heating up again.
This week, Comcast has been polling Vermonters around the state in an effort to gauge if they watch community-access programming,
We've covered this issue in both "Fair Game" and Blurt for months. The issue first surfaced earlier this year when Comcast petitioned state regulators to absolve themselves from giving money to the Regional Education Technology Network (RETN) to provide educational programming on Channel 16 for parts of Chittenden County.
At issue is who should have a say over what PEG channels purchase and how they provide programming to the community.
That led to the two sides inking a deal to keep RETN funded while they hammered out their issues. It also led some local school boards to voice support for RETN. The Charlotte School Board has invited Comcast to answerquestions about the ongoing RETN dispute, and Comcast plans to attendthe board's upcoming meeting on Tuesday.
According to people polled who contacted Seven Days, the poll questions centered on the following topics:
- How much they watched each channel in the last month?
- How much they would be willing to pay to support the channels (the pollster asked the caller if they knew $4.71 of their cable bill went to support them)?
- Did they know one of the channels had a 25 percent surplus?
- Were they aware they could borrow equipment? If so, how often had they done so in
- last 12 months? How likely is it they would do so in next 12 months?
- How much would they be willing to pay extra on their cable bill so the channels could buy new equipment?
These questions are nothing new to the debate. Comcast has been objecting to fundingcertain equipment purchases made by PEG channels — largely items thatallow the channels to create web-based programming or provide suchprogramming to viewers. Comcast believes it should not be required tofund such items as they fall outside TV programming. PEG channels saythey have community boards that oversee their operations and have OK'dthese purchases based on the demands of people in the viewing area —not just cable subscribers.
"We do know that, despite netting $2.5 billion in profit in 2008 andsignificantly increasing its own capital spending over the past fewyears, Comcast is attempting to significantly reduce or eliminatefunding for capital equipment in contract renewal negotiations aroundthe state with access management organizations like RETN," notedScott Campitelli, RETN's executive director and program manager.
Top officials at RETN and CCTV say they wish Comcast had approached them about the survey. RETN's executive director noted that hundreds of people have come out in support of public-access programming in recent months.
"RETN is always interested in hearing from the communities we serve. In fact, during the past few months hundreds of Vermonters signed petitions, passed resolutions, completed surveys, and wrote letters expressing support for the work we do," said Campitelli.
Campitelli was puzzled why Comcast would conduct a poll without first consulting the local organizations it contracts with to provide public-access TV.
Comcast spokeswoman Laura Brubaker said the survey was conducted as part of a statewide assessment of "the public access-related needs of thecommunities we serve in Vermont."
Brubaker said Comcast "routinely surveysour customers on a variety of topics, from products and services, tocustomer service, to public access programming, to ensure that we aremeeting our customers' needs and providing them with the best customerexperience possible."
Lauren-Glenn Davitian, executive director of CCTV and the Center for Media & Democracy, said Comcast should work more closely with local groups providing community access TV so the research provides meaningful results for everyone.
"While statistics and polls shed light on numbers of viewers and awareness of public, educational and government access, we typically measure success through the vitality of our centers and the diversity and involvement of community members, citizen activists and local leaders," said Davitian. "We know that our channels are valued because people in the community let us know."
As an example of community support, Davitian pointed to Rep. Linda Myers' (R-Essex) testimonial at the end of the "Channel 17 Update" agenda item. Click here to watch.
Interestingly , RETN learned last night that it had won the Alliance for Community Media's national award for Overall Excellence in Educational Access.
Meanwhile, Comcast is in an Internet deathmatch with AIG on The Consumerist to see who is the worst company in the U.S. Currently, AIG is in the lead.
"Comcast is in the final deathmatchfor the second year in a row after losing to Countrywide in 2008," the site notes. "Willthis be the year that the cable giant finally takes home the top honor?Or will WCIA newcomer and top-seeded company AIG continue its totaldomination?"
The winner gets its name engraved on the lucky golden poo trophy.
Can't wait for the results.