What are we trying to solve? CT Community Media

Requesting a comprehensive look at the deployment of the Cable Act in Connecticut on June 8, 2020

30 year of advocay on behalf of “The People’s” Voices, Transparency and Civic Educations

Re: Docket 20-01-34 Request for a Declaratory Ruling by Regional Community Access Providers that every customer served by a multichannel video programming distributor be counted under Conn. Gen. Stat 16-331a

Dear Secretary Gaudiosi (Executive Secretary, Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority):

I respectfully submit ‘exception’ comments that concur, in large part, with the March 17, 2020 filing by the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC). The OCC comments suggest a more complete analysis would be fruitful. A complete analysis would incorporate all stakeholders and seek solutions that align with the law and what was intended by the law in a world with different capabilities.

The declaratory ruling request focuses on sustainable funding of CAPS. What would additional funds be sustaining? Exhibit C of the OCC filing, Congressional Research suggests the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of this debate is far-reaching.

I agree with the core question in the request that suggests all income-producing uses for the infrastructure deploying cable TV (and now other services) should be part of a solution. But, what are we solving? A financial band-aide on an ineffective, broken system on behalf of the communities we serve is not a solution that serves all stakeholders. It might provide a temporary adjustment to income that could well serve large CAPS. But, sourcing more dollars for CAPS does not directly address disparities in capacity, service, representation, competencies, complexity, accountability, or outdated language.

Exception 1: Service List Incomplete

The service list did not include all designated Cable Access Providers. This is troubling.

Exception 2: Who is Regional Community Access Providers, whom do they represent, and by what authority are they representing

The creation of a self-designated amalgamation of select CAPS implies a few things 1) the inadequacy of the Advisory Councils, and 2) the complexity of representative communications. This tactic of creating a temporary alliance, outside of the already complex, poorly documented, and inadequately representative CATV framework has been used in the past. It leads, in my opinion, to cumbersome, unfair, and potentially inappropriate (i.e. not cost-effective) nor the adequate application of consumer fees in the authorization of PEGPETIA. Fees and rights of way are matters affecting the public which includes CAPS and consumers of all services supported by poles and cables.

Exception 3: The ruling requested is too narrow

This is clearly suggested in the Appendices in the OCC comments of March 17th.

In 1995, statewide franchising simplified the cable companies’ annual processes by eliminating local franchise negotiations. It also created a Gross Receipts Tax revenue income source for the state. With this transition from local to state administration of P.E.G., two things were fractured:  consumer representation and PEG sustainability. Some franchises lost their renewal opportunities and were frozen in time with insufficient (or too much) per community channel capacity and aging equipment. And, entities like Advisory Councils no longer had a clear purpose. The elimination of franchises also erased capabilities for cable companies to meet capital costs obligations affirmed in the Cable Act which lead to the latest band-aide in 2008, PEGPETIA. Several communities are financing their buildings out of operating costs. There is recent and clear guidance from the FCC, capital funding is intended to be available to P.E.G. operations. It is not available in Connecticut and is part of the needed solution. (See Appendix A)WPAA-TV Testimony 09292019 for Docket 7-10-11RE01 referring to FCC ruling on capital costs.) Brick-and-mortar community investment makes all stakeholders good stewards. Even citizens with no interest in community TV and its resources can stand behind investment in community spaces.

Exception 4: The Role of the State

Comprehensive changes were made 25 years ago with well-paid corporate lawyers and well-intentioned citizen advocates at the table. The compromises were unequally shared. Maybe it is again time for a comprehensive change that looks to the use of rights of way as central to the questions of profitability and sustainability.

Recent court and FCC rulings make finding the role of the state ever more challenging. It is a more complex landscape than in 1995. Therefore, it is advisable to get a better definition of the problems and related policy before a solution or ruling can be made. The problems include inadequate channel capacity in some locations and inadequate use in others, ineffective advisory councils, adversarial versus partnered solutions between companies and communities, and inflexibility to change with markets and technology. What is the policy question? Is the policy to be in support of putting the tools and stage in the hands of those least able to afford it, addressing the digital divide? Should the solution minimize or eliminate consumer taxes with companies taking capability costs, the cost of doing business, out of profits?

In summary, more is broken than ‘from where’ and ‘how much’ income CAPS receives to operate. What the monies were intended to be, ‘payment in lieu of taxes’ for infrastructure rights-of-way vs. consumer-fees is not consumer-friendly. If you ask a person on the street if any company should reimburse a community for use of its property, the answer is likely to be ‘yes.’ If that same person is asked, “Should you pay for community TV?” the answer is likely to be ‘no.’ Many people still have no idea community TV exists. If they do, they may no longer see the value.  I for one see the value otherwise I would not volunteer every day. There is value in both the potential and the day-to-day one-person-at-a-time connections, in support of citizen engagement in whatever they choose.

The protest took the street and to social media not to their community TV stations this week but the video was ubiquitous. COVID-19 reinforced our value to those with basic cable. But who are these people, how many are there, and will there always be a base of users to serve? This proprietary predictable number would be nice to know when solving capacity matters for the future. The OCC commented on proprietary data too. Narrowcasting is undervalued in a viral world but it is one engagement at a time that has always made a difference. How can partnering as good stewards of local property and air rights be codified? Solutions should not be just about CAP’s income.

Please consider supporting a comprehensive look at the deployment of the Cable Act in Connecticut.

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