Vernon Area Special Hearing Page 1
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Vernon Area Cable Advisory Council Tuesday, February 26, 2008, 7:00 pm Vernon Senior Center, 26 Park Place, Vernon, CT Meeting Minutes (live broadcast on Channel 17) 7:00 pm: Special Hearing 1.) Call to Order, 7:00 pm by Chairman, Carl Slicer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. 2.) Special Hearing: Overview of Conn. Public Act 07-253, AN ACT CONCERNING CERTIFIED COMPETIVE VIDEO SERVICE presented by Consultant Attorney Wyland Clift of STEEG & CLIFT, Bristol, CT.
– Telephone/cable regulations overview – formally no competition however, the regulations that have been put in place by the DPUC to monitor customer needs, issues, complaints has drastically changed things over the years so currently, there is much more competition – the ‟84 breakup of AT&T is a good example of how things change in a competitive playing field.
– In 2007, Conn. Public Act 07-253 was enacted creating video competition.
– What we have is another sweeping attempt at competition with a new range of details and pressure on cable & video companies to address the needs of consumers – as such, consumers have more choices.
Carl Slicer: FYI, Comcast contract expires in 2010. in July of 2007, Comcast filed intent to renew however last Fall „07, Comcast rescinded their intent. Applied for a “Video Certificate Franchise” & was granted December 2007.
– A lot of other regulations aren‟t addressed which raises questions – much still needs to be determined.
– New provision in the law that talks about commitment, i.e. who is going to continue paying for third parties, i.e. public television, PEG, etc.
– From 07-253, Funds which are intended for educational purposes – other individuals can then apply for grants. It‟s a well-intended and interesting program.
3.) Citizen Forum: Citizen Question: One to two years out, what is the bottom-line for CVC in terms of going forward? Attorney Clift: The law mitigates that the funds still be available. Page 2
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Citizen Question (Rep. from Statewide Video Council): Since the Statewide Council only meets twice a year at most, this gives us little time to get acquainted and learn the state regulations – do you have any recommendations on council mergers, etc. Attorney Clift: I do see a section in the law regarding the Statewide Video Council. Admittedly, there is not a lot of funding but making good choices of appointments is a good start. The DPUC should put forth a better definition which is the biggest problem. In the past, workshops have been conducted and should be continued. Basically, you just need to work with the best people and resources that you have available to you. Citizen Question: The Water Company is monitored by DPUC – why don‟t we have that for cable companies? There is nothing for consumers which equates to an unfair monopoly. Carl Slicer: There is competition between AT&T and Comcast so that one-time monopoly isn‟t necessarily there any longer – things are changing and with new approaches. Currently, Comcast is providing many services some of which are at zero cost to consumers. Attorney Clift: Monitoring cable companies‟ activities is an important role that your Advisory Councils can handle. AT&T REPRESENTATIVE: (Abigail Jewett, ATT, Hartford, CT office) Currently, AT&T is within seventy-plus towns in Connecticut including parts of Andover, Hebron and Vernon. Distance limitations are varied but consumers can check online to determine AT&T availability in their areas. Carl Slicer: How do you select a town to provide – what is the basis? AT&T Rep: AT&T strives for the most number of households. Carl Slicer: Regarding these online inquiries – do they go to a database? AT&T Rep: There is less emphasis on inquiries vs. reaching as many households as possible. Carl Slicer: Has AT&T run into any reformatting difficulties? AT&T Rep: No problems reported. Citizen Question: What does AT&T physically have to do to get cable up and running? AT&T Rep: AT&T can either re-use co-axial wires or re-wire at no cost to the customer. Citizen Question: What are you using for databases to check AT&T availability? Page 3
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AT&T Rep: Existing fiber optics is the most helpful tool. COMCAST REPRESENTATIVE: (Dan Glanville, Berlin, CT office) Comcast continues to embrace healthy and friendly competition. Comcast will also comply with all state and federal regulations along with privacy standards. Comcast will continue to provide PEG funding along with working with town and state advisory councils especially regarding customer complaints. Carl Slicer: Are you happy with the new law” Comcast Rep: As long as there is a level playing field, Comcast still welcomes competition. Carl Slicer: Why did Comcast abandon its original request to re-new contract? Comcast Rep: For now, we‟re proud to say we‟ve successfully built-out our franchises and are always looking for new growth opportunities. Citizen Question: Does Comcast support senior citizen discounts across the board? Comcast Rep: Would support continuing discussion; unsure about statewide across-the-board discount due to economic fluctuations, i.e. Enfield vs. Vernon. Ross Gepfert, VACAC Rep: Why not standardize? Comcast Rep: This should be a “needs-based” ideology. Carl Slicer: “Some things will change, some won‟t” is confusing. Hopefully, all aspects of competition will bring back fairness to the senior citizen discount ruling. There should be a closer playing field, say one year from today. 4.) Recess: At 8:15 pm, Chairman Carl Slicer brought the Special Hearing to conclusion, followed by a 15-minute break. Regular Hearing: 1.) Call to Order and Attendance: 8:30pm. Present: Carl Slicer, Chairman, Ellington Representative Paul Batterson, Tolland Rep. Ross Gepfert, Vernon Rep Justin Wain, Ellington Board of Ed. Chris White, Tolland Board of Ed Absent: Elaine Burchardt, Andover Rep William Guzman, Tolland Board of Ed Page 4
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2.) Citizens Forum: Jason McCoy, Mayor of Vernon, thanked the VACAC for their continued work. 3.) Approval of November 2007 Meeting Minutes: MOTION/Gepfert to accept the 11/07 Meeting Minutes, SECONDED/Batterson; Motion passed with Chris White abstaining from the vote. 4.) Papers Being Warned: “Hartford Courant” was warned by Comcast on 2/22/08. VACAC also ran ads in the Reminder Press, Journal Inquirer & River East. 5.) Comcast and AT&T approved by DPUC under PA 07-253, December 2007. 6.) Old Business: Comcast return line updates provided by Dan Glanville of Comcast: Marlborough School: completion due 6/27/08 – on track. Andover Town Hall: completion due 3/06/08 – on track. Ellington High School: currently suspended due to weather but on track for Spring ‟08. (Letter was sent to Comcast to install by April 2008) Vernon Town Council live: December 18, 2007, 7:30 pm, Channel 17. November 2007 Meeting Minutes filed with 7 town clerks, 7 Boards of Education, Rockville Public Library and Community Voice Channel. 7.) CVC “Project Wireless” – Wireless coverage @ RHAM Athletic Field: due to unexpected costs, this project has turned into a budget expense line item with RHAM. CVC will continue to approach other schools about wireless. 8) New Business: UConn Huskies home games NOT on Comcast: Dan Glanville stated that Comcast continues to offer robust sports coverage and that Comcast advocates ESPN to carry these games vs. carrying on another channel. Annual Comcast survey from 2007: Dan Glanville: States survey completed – VACAC should have results before the next meeting, April 2008. Introduction of new council members: The next VACAC Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 15, 2008, location to be determined. MOTION/Gepfert, SECONDED/Batterson to adjourn the VACAC Meeting at 9:15 pm; Motion unanimously passed. Page 5
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Carl H Slicer, Chair Minutes submitted by: Brenda Copithorne, Recording Secretary February 26, 2008 __________________________________________________________ Calendar 2008: Tuesdays at 7:00pm 4/15, 6/17, 9/16, 11/18 & 12/16/2008. Calendar was submitted to all 7 town Clerks 11-19-07.
– Basic Cable service: Carl Slicer asked about Comcast‟s different packages with basic cable being apprx. $12.00 per month (23 channels) and reminding everyone that senior citizens do receive a discount.

The Vernon Area Cable Advisory Council represents the towns of Vernon, Andover, Bolton, Ellington, Hebron, Marlborough and Tolland for the purpose of overseeing the franchise agreement relationship of the “Vernon Area” agreement with Comcast Cable Services. Information can be found at: . The following authorities have positions open on this council as of Feb 2008: Vernon Town Council has 1 positions open & Vernon Board of Education has 1 position open. Rockville Public Library has 1 position open. Tolland Town Council has 1 position open. Bolton Bd. of Selectman has 2 positions open & Bolton Board of Education has 1 position open. Andover Board of Education has 1 position open. Ellington Bd of Selectman has 1 position open. Hebron Bd of Selectman has 1 position open & Hebron Board of Education has 1 position open. Marlborough Bd. of Selectman 1 position open & Marlborough Bd. of Education 1 position. Please refer to Conn State Regulations 16-333-25 under appointments.


February 4, 2008 Minutes

MINUTES of CTAC of Hamden, New Haven, and West Haven – February 4, 2009    

Stu Arotsky WH
George Alexander H
Gabriel Michael NH
Jennifer Sacco H
Tad Weinstein WH 
Sharon Codeanne Comcast

6:08 p.m. meeting called to order.

Old business: Tad is pulling together our annual report for 2008 to the DPUC.  
Mail: Alliance for community media sent us a welcoming packet (again).  Gabriel is considering joining the listserv to monitor their updates.  They have a national conference in Portland Oregon.

New business: motion to donate $300 to the Alliance for Community media passed (in addition to our $100 membership fee).

George made motion to approve new 2009 budget, which has same line items as last year, except for the new allocation to the Alliance for Community media, which is a $300 donation on top of our $100 membership fees. Jen seconded, approved.

Tad has suggested that we make a grant available again to the towns for a school cable-related project again.   Stu has suggested we announce to the towns a new program of this sort so they may apply.  George suggests we email the school superintendants of the towns to solicit applications.  George will email our old grant regulations from the last time this was done for us to look over.  George proposes we temporarily allocate $1500-2000 per town.

Stu is concerned that CTV is in violation of the rules because they are not submitting a budget to us, etc.  

Digital transition is still set for February 17th, though there is the possibility it could still be moved to June.

Jen raised the issue of working to petition to move public access back to regularly accessible channels and viewing quality.  Perhaps we need to convince CTV to join AT&T (even on channel 99) so that we could have standing to file complaints with the DPUC.  As our current area has no representation on AT&T, we don’t appear to have standing.  Unless, those of us who are AT&T customers were to write complaints to AT&T that PEG channels are not available, though AT&T would plausibly put that back on CTV.  We could still complain to AT&T about the low quality presentation of public access originating from other towns.  

Minutes from last month’s meeting approved.  Motion to adjourn 6:57 p.m.


The People Vs. Comcast

Companies, People, Ideas
The People Vs. Comcast
Evan Hessel and Dorothy Pomerantz 01.28.08, 12:00 AM ET

Brian Roberts excels at turning power over his customers into profits for his shareholders. Now that power is slipping from his grasp.

When Ralph Roberts ran his first cable television system, in tiny Tupelo, Miss., he became something of a local hero. In 1963 the birth of HBO was still a decade off, but for Tupelites, frustrated by having over-the-air episodes of the The Jack Benny Program and Gunsmoke ruined by static, Roberts’ service was a godsend. Would-be subscribers chased his installers’ trucks down the street, begging for the chance to pay $5 a month for a clear, reliable picture.

Forty-five years later Brian Roberts has replaced his father at the helm of Comcast, and resentment has replaced gratitude in their customers’ hearts.

The younger Roberts tightly restricts what his subscribers can and cannot do. Like other cable chiefs, Roberts insists his customers buy TV channels in bulk, not individually. He led a behind-the-scenes battle to prevent cable subscribers from getting their hands on souped-up set-top boxes designed by other companies. And Comcast recently began interfering with customers’ use of Internet peer-to-peer programs.

In each case regulators, competitors and customers screamed in protest. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin has tried to force Comcast to offer viewers more flexibility in choosing which channels they buy. The head of the Consumer Electronics Association likens Roberts’ behavior to Henry viii’s. One 75-year-old customer grew so livid that she walked into a Comcast office and started smashing computers with a hammer.

And yet all that fury has changed nothing. Comcast made $1.7 billion on $23 billion in revenue during the first nine months of 2007, up 14% and 28%. The business of getting video to American homes remains a cozy oligopoly, with power firmly in the hands of the network owners. Consumers choose among nearly identical plans from one cable outfit, two satellite systems and, in a few markets, the phone company.

But rebellion is afoot. With stunning speed, the Internet is emerging as an alternative for the mass distribution of television and movies. The Net promises to upend the cable industry, stripping power from Roberts and handing it to his customers.

Huge companies–Level 3, Walt Disney, VeriSign–have started “content delivery networks” dedicated to one thing: delivering smooth and reliable digital video over the Net. In the past year this unfettered competition has slashed the cost of delivering an hourlong TV episode by half, to roughly 15 cents. Established bit-delivery companies such as Akamai and LimeLight could soon cut prices to keep pace.

All four broadcast networks now stream most of their shows free online. Many cable channels have followed suit. A few viewers, such as Nashville resident Christy Nicholson, have responded by canceling their Comcast television service. Nicholson now uses iTunes and Hulu, the online venture from NBC and Fox, to watch Monkand 30 Rock. “I’m not willing to pay what Comcast charges to get the channels I would want,” says Nicholson, a 27-year-old online retail entrepreneur.

Of course, Nicholson and people like her still have to purchase their high-speed Internet connections, often from the cable company. But this shift from selling programming to selling mere transmission cannot be good for the cable industry. The more cable looks like a utility the closer it gets to price wars or, worse, price regulation by the government.

Roberts declines to be interviewed, but he has been upbeat about the future of cable. Asked about Internet video at an investor conference in May, he responded with breezy optimism: “It is not even on the radar of possibility–at this time.”

Brian Roberts was born to Ralph and Suzanne Roberts in 1959. Looking to provide a better life for his young family, Ralph got out of the belt business and into the nascent cable business. The elder Roberts bought up dozens of small cable systems and hired his son out of college in 1981.

The younger Roberts first distinguished himself in 1995 when his industry appointed the then 35-year-old to preside over its main lobbying group. Roberts persuaded Congress to deregulate cable prices, setting the stage for a decade of wild growth and making the young executive a hero to his compatriots.

But in exchange for price deregulation, Congress demanded that cable companies let customers buy set-top boxes from any electronics outfit. Cable operators had always blocked other companies’ equipment from connecting to their networks. Cable guys make good money renting set-tops and like to control the onscreen program guides.

Somehow that demand never turned to much action on the cable industry’s part. Roberts resorted to 11 years of foot-dragging. He and his lobbyists repeatedly assured the FCC they supported greater consumer choice in set-tops while simultaneously citing a series of technical reasons for keeping cable networks closed. “It is the longest example of an industry trying to diddle the government in history. It was unconscionable,” says Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association. 

Roberts was equally successful in opposing regulatory efforts to force cable companies to sell channels à la carte. Last year FCC Chairman Martin made unbundled cable service one of his chief goals. Roberts refused to budge, arguing that the traditional system of selling channels in tiers has provided diverse programming for consumers and saves them money. Martin’s efforts to goad Congress into action are stalled.

Now Roberts faces the biggest threat to Comcast’s power yet. New technology is already beginning to do what competitors and regulators never could: weaken Roberts’ ability to control how his customers watch TV. 

So far the number of cable cord cutters is too small to measure. Still, Web viewing is clearly catching on, thanks to increasing picture quality and faster downloads. In a recent Nielsen survey 39% of 18- to 34-year-olds reported they watched at least one full episode online in the past three months. Web TV makes canceling pricey cable service ever more appealing. A Comcast customer paying $100 per month for Internet and digital television service could save $60 per month by tossing the latter. She would, however, miss most of the shows on Comcast’s basic cable tier, on channels like the Food Network and Oxygen that don’t regularly stream their shows online.

To keep his 24 million television customers happy, Roberts plans to expand Comcast’s on- demand movies four-fold to 6,000 per month by 2009. Later this year Comcast cable boxes will have access to Roberts’ Fancast, an online repository of videoclips and entertainment information.

But these days consumer-shackling communications networks can be busted open overnight. In November mighty Google announced plans for an “open” cell phone with software controlled by users. Within a month the big cellular network operators accustomed to restricting what users could do with their phones meekly agreed to void their old restrictions.

Now Google, Apple or another Silicon Valley insurgent could do the same thing in television, building a box that can grab video from both cable and the Web. Google won’t comment on its plans, but it recently hired a veteran set-top box software designer.