Nutmeg Network Gets Statewide Ride

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Connecticut legislators and the state’s cable operators have reached an unprecedented commitment for statewide basic-tier carriage of Connecticut Network, or CT-N, a government-affairs network.

The pressure on operators to universally carry the network was intense. CT-N and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed as intervenors in a refranchising docket for Cox Communications Inc. before the state’s Department of Public Utility Control, arguing that new agreements for the 10 towns it serves should include a requirement to carry CT-N on basic.

That signaled the desire to set a precedent that would apply to other operators at refranchising.

LAWMAKERS INTERESTED

Also, state officials threatened legislation to compel carriage of the 6-year-old-network, which televises sessions of the state’s General Assembly and other public-affairs issues around the clock.

What apparently triggered the heightened attention was talk by some operators of moving CT-N from its current analog slot to a more costly digital tier. Now, only 37% of CT-N viewers can watch the 24/7 coverage on basic cable; 40% have to pay for more digital channels for access and 20% of approximately 1 million cable homes only see CT-N part time, if at all, said network CEO Paul Giguere.

In the Cox docket, CT-N and the attorney general argued that the public-affairs network met the definition of a government network with mandated carriage. Cox attorneys countered that each local franchising authority would have to establish that the network meets that definition.

Attempts by other states to mandate carriage of a government channel have been struck down in court, the company also noted in its response.

But faced with bipartisan support for CT-N carriage, New England Cable Telecommunications Association vice president Bill Durand sat down and negotiated individual agreements for the state’s cable companies.

By Jan. 1, 2007, companies including Comcast Corp., Adelphia Communications Inc., Cox, Cablevision Systems Corp., Tele-Media Corp. and Charter Communications Inc. will set aside a basic-channel slot for CT-N.

CHARTER MUST ADD

For some companies, this will mean moving the channel from digital, but in Charter’s case, it must add the network for the first time, according to legislators. Giguere added that about 85% of the state’s systems would place CT-N on its dedicated basic or expanded-basic channel slot by January 2006.

“This has been one of our top goals,” he said of the basic channel placement.

CT-N carriage has been the only consensus issue this legislative session, said state Sen. John Fonfara (D-Hartford), chairman of the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee. At the announcement of the agreements on June 1, committee co-chair Rep. Steve Fontana (D-North Haven) added, “Our overreaching goal is to provide a common threshold to statewide access.”

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