The cable station that records local government meetings, lets people create and air their own television shows and works with other local nonprofits is worried its funding may soon dry up.
Tom Leypoldt, executive director of PEG-TV, the nonprofit cable-access station covering Rutland County, said Tuesday he and his counterparts across the state and country are keeping a close eye on a proposed rule from the Federal Communications Commission that would let cable companies place a value on in-kind services they provide to access centers such as PEG-TV.
Leypoldt said that part of the federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 requires cable companies to allot a percentage of the profits they make from subscribers toward public-access stations. In Rutland County, that means PEG-TV gets about $200,000 per quarter from Comcast, the area’s dominant cable provider.
In addition to those funds, PEG-TV benefits from other services provided by the cable company, Leypoldt said. For example, PEG-TV’s ability to record Rutland City Board of Aldermen meetings live is an in-kind service. If the FCC rule takes effect, Comcast might be able to either bill PEG-TV for the cost of that service, or withhold funding.
Leypoldt said the concern is that the cable company would be the one setting the price, and it’s not clear what services would be billed for.
“I’m concerned about this,” he said. “I don’t know what the numbers are going to look like.”
Leypoldt said Vermont Access Network, the statewide umbrella organization Vermont’s 25 cable-access stations belong to, has been active in urging its members to write letters to legislators and the FCC with their concerns.
Leypoldt, who’s been with PEG-TV since 1995 — and in his current position since 2015 — said he’s never seen VAN this concerned over an FCC rule.
PEG-TV records more than 30 municipal meetings per month and will train people to use its video equipment and studio for their own shows. The station allows nonprofits to use it as a platform, and generally does things to support free speech, Leypoldt said.
The rule was proposed by the FCC on Oct. 15, said Kevin Christopher, president of VAN and executive director of Lake Champlain Access Television, which serves the Colchester area. The public had until Nov. 14 to comment and thousands of people did so. Reply comments, letters of opposition and supporting documents have until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 14 at to be submitted.
Christopher said the big concern for groups like his and PEG-TV are that the cable companies will impose large fees for previously in-kind services that will effectively eliminate the stations’ funding.
“It’s completely up to the cable operator,” he said. “Some of them would prefer us not to be around.”
The main cable operator in Vermont is Comcast, which contracts with 18 cable-access centers statewide. Charter Communications has two contracts, Vermont Telephone Co. has six, Burlington Telecom works with three centers, and Southern Vermont Cable Co. contracts with one center, according to Christopher. All have some overlap with Comcast.
Elizabeth Walden, a spokeswoman for Comcast in western New England, said Tuesday through email that the company isn’t commenting on the issue.
Comments on the rule can be filed here: bit.ly/1128_FCC_filings
Comments that have been filed can be viewed here: bit.ly/1128_FCC_results
Christopher said if the rule is approved, it would take effect sometime in the summer.