Sanders to FCC: Let Vermont Regulate Cable TV

WASHINGTON, May 24 -Sen. Bernie Sanders today asked the Federal Communications Commission to let Vermont regulate basic cable television rates which soared in the state last year by an average of almost 10 percent.

Sanders asked the FCC to reconsider a determination that satellite providers, such as DirectTV Inc. and DISH Network, provide "effective competition" to cable. Recognizing that satellite and cable are not genuine competitors could  clear the way for the state to regulate so-called basic cable and force Comcast to justify rate increases.

Comcast's cable rates continue to rise in Vermont. At the end of 2009, just two of Comcast's 10 Vermont service areas charged more than $20 a month for comparable basic cable packages. One year later, at the end of 2010, Comcast was charging more than $20 a month in six of its 10 service areas.  Even as monthly prices for basic cable rose by at least 10 percent in four Vermont service areas, the number of channels offered to Comcast's basic cable customers in those areas decreased.

"Comcast has at least 113,000 subscribers in Vermont," Sanders wrote to the FCC. "Many of these are captive customers, and for this reason, Comcast has been able to raise its rates again and again without justification."

The Vermont Public Service Board cannot regulate even the lowest tier of programming because of the FCC determination that satellite service is an effective competitor to cable networks.  In fact, however, satellite is not available to all Vermonters because of the mountainous terrain. Satellite service in many instances does not offer local programming or public channels, which serve as a source of information and news for local communities throughout Vermont. "It is no wonder, then, that supposed competition from satellite has failed to hold down Comcast's rate," Sanders wrote.

The average rate increase for Comcast's basic cable packages in Vermont from 2009 to 2010 was $2.14 a month. The highest price increase was $3.25 a month- a 28 percent increase - to $15 a month for the area serving communities in the Lake Champlain Islands. The highest prices paid by Vermonters for Comcast's basic cable was $22.35 a month. Hartford, Hartland, Norwich and Pomfret, the area which paid the highest price for Comcast's basic cable service, saw prices jump $2 month, or 10 percent, from 2009 to 2010.

To read Sen. Sanders' letter to the FCC, click here.

Contact: Michael Briggs (202) 224-5141