RETN, Comcast close to contract agreement (10/8/09)

Oct. 8, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Regional Educational Television Network and cable company Comcast have nearly reached a contract agreement that will allow for continued funding of the nonprofit network.

While stating he could not provide details until both sides sign off on the agreement, Doug Dunbebin, RETN’s community relations associate, said the contract should be finalized within a week.

The contract must still be signed by both parties, as well as the Vermont Public Service Board and Vermont Department of Public Service, Dunbebin said.

Laura Brubaker, a public relations associate with Comcast, told the Observer in an e-mail that the company does not have “anything official to report as of now.”

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

The contract dispute between RETN and Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, has been an issue since 2007. Comcast petitioned the Public Service Board to not renew and suspend contracts for two RETN operating districts last year. The cable company accused RETN of poor bookkeeping practices.

While the contract negotiations were ongoing, Comcast agreed to fund RETN on an interim basis. During that time, an independent auditor found no errors or irregularities in RETN’s bookkeeping after the time Comcast raised its concerns.

The auditor’s report also provided recommendations on how to best improve communication between RETN and Comcast in terms of finances. Both parties have said they welcomed the recommendations provided in the report.