Comcast Sues Vermont Over Provisions In New Permit

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The Vermont Public Utility Commission (VPUC) is being sued by Comcast over the state's demand to expand coverage of community TV stations to residents in underserved areas.

The multi-billion dollar internet service provider (ISP) is one of the major ISP duopolies along with AT&T, Tech Dirt reports.  They say that these companies have maintained somewhat of a stronghold on state legislatures in return for campaign contributions.  

Tech Dirt claims that these networks have effectively blocked themselves from having to expand in low-income or sparsely-populated areas and, in some cases, have prevented others from doing so, as well.

The state of Vermont is attempting to prevent Comcast from blocking out certain areas and services via provisions in their new state permit, which is renewed every 11 years.

"Comcast shall construct no less than 550 miles of line extensions into un-cabled areas during the [11-year] term," reads the permit, which also requires a provision to keep public access programming.

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According to Ars Technica, Comcast took over services in the state when it purchased Adelphia in 2005.  The VPUC claims that Comcast was aware of the state's dedication "to building out cable networks to unserved areas to meet community needs."

The VPUC refused Comcast's request to change their conditions in the permit, citing "the needs and interests of the state to expand the availability of service in unserved areas of Vermont."

Tech Dirt notes that the cost of extending service lines and reengineering its infrastructure to inculde public access television over the course of the permit-length is a "pittance" for Comcast's budget -- which reportedly sees $21 billion in quarterly revenues.  The VPUC also concluded that the costs of their terms would not hinder Comcast's profits as a company.

Comcast disagrees.  The company filed a suit in the U.S. District Court of Vermont on Aug. 29, claiming it would cost $4 million to add public access networks to its TV guide and "tens of millions" to build 550 miles of cable lines, Vermont Public Radio reports.

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Comcast spokeswoman Kristen Roberts said in a written statement that "[the VPUC's provisions] would cost millions of dollars, place discriminatory burdens on Comcast and its customers, and arbitrarily increase their costs for cable service."

In a response reported by Tech Dirt, Comcast claimed that the permit violates their First Amendment rights.

For local TV stations, however, the VPUC's provisions would benefit them.

The Vermont Access Network is a Vermont-based advocacy group comprised of 25 community TV stations. Lauren-Glenn Davitian, who speaks for the group, said they talked to state regulators when creating the new permit.

"We've been fighting with Comcast since they came to Vermont," Davitian said. "And when we went to the Public Utility Commission for the renewal proceedings we wanted to make sure that Comcast would comply with bringing public access into the modern age."

Sources: Tech Dirt, Ars Technica, Vermont Public Radio / Featured Image: Dave Winer/Flickr / Embedded Images: Dave Winer/Flickr, Mr.TinDC/Flickr

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