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RETN / Comcast Ink Funding Deal

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The growing battle between telecom giant Comcast and the small non-profit Regional Educational Technology Network (RETN) is cooling off — for now.

The two sides, yesterday, successfully negotiated in principle a short-term funding agreement. They hope to have a signed agreement by Friday.

As first reported in “Fair Game” three weeks ago, Comcast has criticized RETN and otherproviders of Public Educational and Governmental (PEG) services beforethe PSB and in the public arena. Comcast claims that RETN hasmismanaged and misspent the money Comcastis required to give back to communities for the right to use the publicairwaves. State and federal law enables Vermont tomake cablecompanies use 5 percent of their gross revenues to finance this kind ofprogramming.

RETN and other PEG channels claim Comcast is trying to find ways to cut its operating costs, and hopes to wriggle out from PEG funding requirements by manufacturing problems. Comcast has explicitly stated that it does not believe PEG channels should spend money on websites and other emerging technology to deliver services to residents.

Yesterday's deal allows RETN to continue providing educational access services and programming while the two sides resolve Comcast's complaints about RETN. Comcast brought has petitioned the state Public Service Board, trying to back out of its two contracts with RETN.

The exact wording of the stipulated agreement has not been finalized. However, RETN officials said both parties have agreed to proceed with an “agreed-upon procedures” report (rather than an audit) performed by an independent accounting firm. RETN also agreed to several new financial reporting measures and to temporarily grant Comcast approval authority over certain capital expenditures.

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