RETN and Comcast seek contract resolution (7/30/09)

July 30, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Regional Educational Television Network and Comcast went back before the Vermont Public Service Board last week in an effort to resolve an ongoing contract dispute.

This was the second meeting before the board for the nation’s largest cable company and the locally owned and operated RETN. Both parties met before the board in February.

RETN provides educational programming, such as coverage of School Board meetings and graduations, for cities and towns across the Champlain Valley on channel 16.

RETN Executive Director Scott Campitelli issued a statement to the Observer this week about the ongoing discussions.

“Comcast and RETN are working collaboratively to provide quality, meaningful educational access programming,” Campitelli wrote in an e-mail. “To that end, we are moving forward to resolving our contractual issues in a way that will mutually benefit Comcast cable customers and RETN viewers and non-profit constituents.”

Comcast’s Vermont representative, Christina DeGraff-Murphy, did not respond to telephone calls before press deadline on Wednesday.

Both parties also met on July 2 to begin negotiations before the Public Service Board hearing. That meeting came after Comcast released the results of an independent audit into RETN’s finances. Comcast charged that RETN’s bookkeeping was not up to par, citing that as a primary reason for not renewing one contract and suspending another contract with the nonprofit network.

But the audit found no glaring mistakes on RETN’s part and said the network had made positive changes since Comcast brought the issue to the network’s attention in 2008.

RETN is mainly funded by Comcast, which sets aside a portion of its subscription fees for local programming in accordance with federal and state laws.

Discussions between the two parties are ongoing and Comcast and RETN are scheduled to meet again in early September, according to Doug Dunbebin, RETN’s community relations associate. An exact date has not been set, Dunbebin said.