Nutmeg Net Gets a Say in Cox Case

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Before a Cox Communications Inc. franchise serving 10 Connecticut towns can be renegotiated, the state’s public affairs network and attorney general will have their say in the proceeding.

Representatives of the Connecticut Network (CT-N), a taxpayer-supported channel that covers the legislature, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal have been granted intervenor status on Cox’s application before the state Department of Public Utility Control. Cox has heatedly opposed their intervention.

CT-N officials want to use the proceeding to assure carriage on Cox’s most basic tier, according to Paul Giguere, CEO of the nonprofit corporation that runs the network. Operators in the state have been gradually migrating the channel to digital tiers, he said.

Of the state’s 1.1 million cable homes, 37% watch CT-N on basic cable, while another 40% must subscribe to more expensive digital tiers to watch their government in action. About 20% either have access to only part-time coverage, or no coverage at all, Giguere said.

CT-N creates “an opportunity for average citizens to see what’s happening. It’s an open window to all citizens and it needs to be where the financial burden is the least,” Giguere said. “They’re already paying for it with their taxes.”

The DPUC is 19 months into the docket renewing a franchise for Cox’s system serving East Granby, East Windsor, Enfield, Granby, Hartland, Somers, Stafford, Suffield, Union and Windsor Locks. The agency has the authority to assure channels are set aside for government use, Giguere said.

Earlier this month, Blumenthal joined CT-N’s quest for coverage. According to his statements, the attorney general is concerned about the level of public access and government programming on cable.

Attorneys for Cox opposed both intervenor petitions. CT-N has asked to enter the refranchising process to raise issues and arguments outside the scope of “lawfully conducted franchise renewal proceedings.” Cox contended in filings.

CT-N’s participation violates state and federal law, Cox argued. The network claimed to qualify as a government use channel, as specified in Section 531 of the Cable Act. But Cox countered that CT-N would have to be appointed a manager of community access in each franchise to meet that definition.

Cox also noted that a 1993 attempt by two Massachusetts communities to require carriage of C-SPAN and a state government channel there were struck down in state court.

But the DPUC determined the intervenors will be able to argue for their interests on Cox’s docket.