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The Courts Communications Government Network Networking United States

Comcast Sues Vermont Over Conditions On New License Requiring the Company To Expand Its Network (vtdigger.org) 180

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VTDigger: Cable television giant Comcast is suing the Vermont Public Utility Commission over the panel's decision to require the company to expand its network and step up support for community access TV if it wants to continue doing business in Vermont. A key issue is the services Comcast must provide to local community access systems that carry municipal government and school board meetings and other local events. The 26 community access systems have been pushing -- against resistance by Comcast -- for high-definition video, greater ability to operate from remote locations, and inclusion in the interactive program guides that Comcast customers can use to decide what to watch. The PUC -- formerly known as the Public Service Board -- in January issued a new 11-year permit for Comcast to operate in Vermont. In July the panel rejected the company's request to drop some of the conditions attached to the permit.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Comcast argued that the PUC "exceeded its authority under federal and Vermont law" by imposing "numerous conditions on Comcast's continued cable operations in the state that are arbitrary, unprecedented and will ultimately harm local cable subscribers by resulting in millions of dollars in increased cable costs." It said the commission "did so despite overwhelming record evidence that Vermont cable subscribers do not want to incur any additional costs or fees for the kinds of conditions imposed" in the commission's January order.

Comcast Sues Vermont Over Conditions On New License Requiring the Company To Expand Its Network

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  • comcasts HD line up sucks and makeing CA HD x1 only will be a big cable card issue as well / comcast maybe forced to install free X1s at the community centers as well.

  • At first glance, it appears the cable giant Comcast is attempting to bully the State Commission into submission over the trivial viewership generated by covering municipal government and school board meetings.

    What's really at stake is the future of both cable providers and small public access channels.

    FTA:

    With more customers shifting away from cable to internet-based video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, the cable television industry — and the public access networks it spawned — could fade into history. It could be that some new economic model might have to be developed if public access networks are to have a secure long-term future. Christopher put it this way: “If cable TV goes away, our existence is uncertain.”

    • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @08:21AM (#56114875) Homepage Journal

      Really what is sounds like to me is that Comcast wants all the advantages of their government granted monopoly and none of the requirements.

      It's time to cut government granted monopolies loose. The Comcast deal with real competition in all areas. The don't seem to be able to deal with it in any other area, so now they have chosen the court system.

      I am tired of hearing about how great corporatism is when the "free market" is thrown out the window and companies like this go whining to the courts and to their reps when things do not go their way. If they want to champion corporatism let them die from it as well.

      • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @08:42AM (#56114991) Journal

        Comcast enjoys a virtual monopoly providing internet service in Vermont, thanks to a sweetheart deal with the State that was recently extended by 11 years. [boingboing.net]

        It kind of makes you wonder why the State would make such a poor deal?? Outside of Burlington, there is no city with a population greater than 20,000... making it pretty much all last mile service.

        Not to defend Comcast by any means, but the market in the State is meager enough that market protections like competition are not present. Perhaps these smaller States could give up a bit of sovereignty and band together to create a market providers could compete for.

        • It's almost as though the deal that Vermont signed included the requirements that Comcast expand its network, and now they're trying to get out of that requirement but maintain the sweetheart portion of the deal.
      • by jd ( 1658 )

        https://arstechnica.com/tech-p... [arstechnica.com]

        I'm not sure we want Comcast to "deal" with competition. They seem to have a very... "don't call me scarface" approach to it.

      • by eth1 ( 94901 )

        Really what is sounds like to me is that Comcast wants all the advantages of their government granted monopoly and none of the requirements.

        Yeah... the PUC should say "Fine, we won't require YOU to provide any public access, so we'll just modify the license to forbid you from taking any action against municipalities that provide their own municipal broadband networks."

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        That doesn't work because:
        1) Wire/cable access to customer property requires a government approved easement over lots of neighbors' property.
        2) Wire/cable access is a natural monopoly. You don't want every new would-be ISP stinging wires and cables throughout the area.

        The reasonable approach is for every locality to manage its own hardware layer, but most don't have the technical capability, so it would need to be contracted out. Which it is. The problem is the company stringing the wires/cables feels th

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      What's really at stake is the future of both cable providers and small public access channels.

      What's at stake is the future of community-based regulation of cable monopolies. If they win this case..... then that will mean the citizens couldn't impose conditions on renewing the Cable company's exclusivity, which means their monopoly becomes an almost unconditional one that the local government can no longer limit and impose build-out requirements on to protect the public interest and to sure the entir

      • If cable was the only way to get content, that would be the case. Dish and Directv compete for television subscribers within the State without the massive landline infrastructure, and the phone companies provide internet service competition.

        Landline cable's shrinking market share is a poor use case for out of control monopoly.

        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          If Comcast doesn't want responsibilities, then Vermont should revoke all right-of-way for their lines. Let Comcast pay the State and each individual land owner rent.

    • over the trivial viewership generated by covering municipal government and school board meetings.

      There is a trivial compromise, which would be a win-win for everyone:

      Stream such events on demand,.

      Comcast is right - it's a waste of resources to block out channels for these events with such low viewership. Vermont is right - expanding access to these meetings is in the public interest. It's not 1970 - let people stream the events. This will be more convenient for people, won't waste Comcast's bandwidth, and the only tradeoff is some extra hard drive space being used up.

      • It's not 1970 - let people stream the events. This will be more convenient for people, won't waste Comcast's bandwidth, and the only tradeoff is some extra hard drive space being used up.

        And require that Comcast NOT count the bandwidth used for that as part of its customer's monthly download cap.

  • Hang On (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @08:23AM (#56114887)
    So the timing here is:-

    1. The Vermont Public Utility Commission issue a new 11-year permit for Comcast to operate in Vermont.
    2. Vermont sue the Vermont Public Utility Commission, because the terms on offer are unappealing?

    Well, surely, if Comcast don't like it, Comcast are entirely free to decline to accept the new permit and step away from offering their services, in order to allow a competitor - who will meet the requirements - take over?

    No?

    I wonder why the likes of Comcast don't just skip over all this dull and boring intermediate legal wrangle nonsense and just file a case in each state which says, "We demand the right to receive monies and make a profit just from saying we operate in this State."

    I mean, they're pretty much there already, right? They just haven't used such a concise form of words...
  • Our school hosts a local PA for our community. Most of the equipment was installed in the late 80s. Added onto that were a few DVD players, a Cisco switch, and a few DACs. Still broadcasts in the same 4:3 format it always has. We still get DVDs from all the local churches. I imagine changing it up with all new equivalent HD digital broadcasting equipment would cost around $15,000, give-or-take.

    Comcast just doesn't want to shell out that kind of money. And since public-access was started by a mandate b

    • I don't get it. You mean Comcast is supposed to provide AV equipment to institutions? I thought this was about having sufficient data transfer capacity. Which should be absolutely possible and the worst line installations conceivable at this point in time ought to be able to transfer a dozen of HD streams simultaneously.
  • by fuzznutz ( 789413 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @08:30AM (#56114937)
    How about instead, we break up the content and delivery into two different companies and make Comcast compete with itself. We no longer allow bundling "discounts". If Comcast TV has to pay the same rates to Comcast Commodity Delivery Network as the rest of us Internet subscribers, I'd bet we would see more competitive rates. There are those of us that remember the rape rates charged by long distance carriers back in the 80's and 90's so there are precedents for how well it works. I pay less now for calling around the country on my unlimited cell phone service ($25) than I used to pay for just my (extremely) local phone service in 1988 ($32) and that was in dollars worth about 49% of today's. And my land line costed less than $7 per month before I completely cancelled it, although it did piggyback on my $40 Internet service.
  • Ok so a bunch of community access channels (broadcasting things like council meetings, school board meetings and other local events) in various parts of Vermont want this stuff from Comcast.

    What do the voters (those who voted for the Vermont legislature and those who voted for elected officials in areas where these community access stations exist) want? Is there actually pressure from the electorate (or from the people who are running these community access stations or the elected politicians) for this stuf

  • Cable television giant Comcast is suing the Vermont Public Utility Commission over the panel's decision to require the company to expand its network...

    But Ajit Pai told us the only thing stopping network expansion was net neutrality. Now that that's gone, Comcast should be eager to expand, unless of course Pai was lying to us.

    • But Ajit Pai would never lie to us. I know that because I got a totally legitimate email from Agot Paed that says so.
  • by Rastl ( 955935 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @09:25AM (#56115221) Journal

    I find it interesting that Comcast feels that it has Constitutional rights as a company. There's two pieces to that. They're a corporation - not a person. Vermont is also only requiring these changes within their state so even the commerce clause doesn't apply if Comcast wanted to stretch it that far.

    These requirements aren't unreasonable. Build out the network like they're supposed to do anyway, add the public access content to the online guide like they do in other states, provide for live transmission when it's practical, and be a part of a proceeding to determine if public access content should be broadcast in HD.

    This has no impact on their carrier status. It actually fits right in with it. They're being told that they have to open their network to content. Vermont isn't asking for anything that hasn't been done in other states. There's no actual burden on Comcast except for having restrictions tied to their license.

    As at least one other commentor has said - if they don't like it they can decline the license and let another cable operator take over their monopoly. Or withdraw and let the municipalities manage their own infrastructure. But this is the cost of doing business and they need to suck it up or leave.

    • Commerce Clause could definitely apply, at least in so far as it has been applied in other cases. There is precedent in some case regarding a farmer growing grain to feed his own livestock. Some federal agency successfully argued in court that because his grain supplanted grain he would otherwise purchase, which might potentially come from out of state or be exported to another state, that the commerce clause applied. The Commerce Clause is so incredibly broadly interpreted that I would bet a skilled lawyer

      • You are probably referring to Wickard v. Filburn. That was one of the most insanely idiotic court decisions ever. It effectively ended any constitutional restrictions on the federal government's economic power, thereby opening it up for sale to the highest bidder.
  • I'm looking from the outside in on this since I don't live in Vermont. On the face of it the requirement seems unfair. Why is Comcast the only provider being required to do this? Is Vermont requiring any other video delivery service that operates in the state to do this? Since I didn't see anything in the article about it I'm going to assume the answer is no. So Comcast has to incur additional costs while other video providers don't. The government (at any level) shouldn't pick winners and losers.

    • Why is Comcast the only provider being required to do this?

      Because Comcast is the only provider in VT. They have a monopoly. And just signed an 11 year extension to that monopoly. They're very upset that in exchange for having complete control over the TV and Internet in VT (aside from OTA and wireless) that they are being required to provide an adequate level of service.

      The requirement to have public access channels is a federal mandate. Cable companies see this as yet another cost to control, so they're still running on 1990s analog technology to produce them. Th

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Honestly, VT should offer a settlement. One time only, just say the word and they can tear up the contract right away.

        Then Comcast can have 30 days to sell off their equipment to whoever signs the deal w/ the state or get it out of the right of way.

      • Why is Comcast the only provider being required to do this?

        Because Comcast is the only provider in VT. They have a monopoly. And just signed an 11 year extension to that monopoly. They're very upset that in exchange for having complete control over the TV and Internet in VT (aside from OTA and wireless) that they are being required to provide an adequate level of service.

        The requirement to have public access channels is a federal mandate. Cable companies see this as yet another cost to control, so they're still running on 1990s analog technology to produce them. They're not going to modernize and digitize the public access channels until the FCC tells them they have to. Or strips that requirement from the law, which I bet the cable companies would prefer.

        VT has said, "We're giving you a monopoly, and these are the terms." Comcast doesn't like those terms, so instead of not signing that contract extension, they signed it and then sued.

        So yeah, they're the same old pieces of shit they've always been.

        That's not entirely true. Residents of Vermont can also use Dish, DirecTV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, etc... Comcast has a government-sanctioned monopoly on traditional cable service, but I would bet that more residents get their video service from other providers. Vermont should require all video delivery services to do it, or none at all.

        • While the internet is a wonderful place where you can share your thoughts, when they are stupid, people will know you are stupid. It's a double-edged sword.

          The FCC requirement for public access channels only apples to cable companies. It doesn't apply to satellite TV, and it doesn't apply to internet video services.

          And that is what VT has done. They've required Comcast to set aside public access channels. Comcast has decided that they can continue to run 480p analog feeds, because nobody told them they cou

          • My point is that the government shouldn't be allowed to pick winners and losers. There are multiple types of video providers, but they are all treated differently. That shouldn't happen.

            I'm not defending Comcast. I don't have their service and I've never worked for them or any of their counterparts. It also seems that suing after signing a contract is standard. The plaintiff can show real world examples of real world hardships vs hypotheticals.

            • Doubling down on my initial statement? That's a bold plan. We'll see how it pans out. I'm rooting for you kid!

    • Why is Comcast the only provider being required to do this?

      Because they signed a contract obliging them to do so?

  • Tell Comcast its services are no longer required and Vermont will follow the Chattanooga model and supply everyone 10 gigabits to the home. After all, if it's that expensive, Vermont can't do it for less and therefore can't compete with Comcast, right? But if Vermont can do it, why waste time on a bunch of losers?

  • Did the state of Vermont hold an open bidding process to provide residents with cable service? If not then residents should sue the state for corruption and force the state to allow other companies the chance to bid on offering cable service.

  • what will the poor shareholders do if there is a negative impact to Comcast's multi-billion dollar stock buyback!
  • "In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Comcast argued that the PUC "exceeded its authority under federal and Vermont law" by imposing "numerous conditions on Comcast's continued cable operations in the state that are arbitrary, unprecedented and will ultimately harm local cable subscribers by resulting in millions of dollars in increased cable costs." It said the commission "did so despite overwhelming record evidence that Vermont cable subscribers do not want to incur any addition

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