A Deeper Look at Vermont’s AMOs

Access Centers (access management organizations, or AMOs) in Vermont are, with one exception, IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charitable organizations, to which donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Read more about the the origin of the term AMO.

Under Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) Rule 8.400, cable operators are required to provide PEG Access services to those towns for which they have received a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board. If a community group comes forward to manage PEG Access for the cable operator as an independent AMO, the cable operator and the AMO must negotiate a contract for the level of funding and the management of the cable operator’s PEG access mandate is assigned to the AMO. Specific towns and incorporated villages are designated by the cable operator to each AMO, and these municipalities comprise the AMO’s “service territory.”

Most, but not all the 240 municipalities in Vermont are served by a PEG access center, or AMO. The 81 towns and gores that fall outside of traditional cable television service, and hence do not have an AMO designated to serve them, are generally found in the extreme northeast, extreme north-central, extreme northwest, extreme south-central and a swath across the central part of the State—generally the least densely populated towns where cable operators have decided it was too expensive to build.

In Vermont, there are 25 AMOs that are nonprofit corporations, and a Local Origination channel that is operated by a civic-minded individual who provides local ad sponsored programming and limited PEG Access services for two towns, Stowe and Cambridge, under contract to two commonly-owned, single-town cable systems, Stowe Cable and Jeffersonville Cable.

Vermont state law exempts companies whose gross annual cable television revenues are less than $2 million from having to provide PEG access services, unless there is evidence of need for such services. A notable example of this is Southern Vermont Cable, which, in spite of having gross annual revenues of less than $2 million, has been required by the Public Service Board to negotiate a PEG access contract with Brattleboro Community Television to provide it with annual funding and carriage of BCTV’s channels to its four towns north and west of Brattleboro. Another example is Waitsfield Cable, which only serves three towns but still fully supports an AMO, even though it is not required by the PSB to do so.

A relatively new development in Vermont, although not unique among many other parts of the country, is the building of one telecom provider over another established, or incumbent, provider. The first of these was Burlington Telecom, which with its residential and enterprise fiber-to-the-premises television, Internet and telephone services competes with Comcast, Fairpoint and commercial broadband providers.

The second overbuilder in Vermont, a telephone CLEC (competitive local exchange carrier), to add Internet and cable TV services to its telephone service in towns already certificated to a traditional cable operator (Charter), was Topsham Telephone. In 2009, the Public Service Board awarded a Ccertificate of Public Good (CPG) to Topsham for the towns of Corinth, Topsham, Orange, Washington, Newbury and Vershire. As Topsham Communications, LLC, the company was also certificated to provide cable television service to the Towns of Bradford, Fairlee and West Fairlee. Although its CPG holds the company to the PEG access provisions of Rule 8.400, Topsham Communications has not yet done so.

The third and latest overbuilder—again a CLEC—is Vermont Telephone (VTel), which in 2012 received a CPG to add cable television service in a number of central Vermont towns as it upgrades its copper to an all-fiber optic system from its hubs in Springfield, Hartland and Mount Holly. These three hubs will service subscribers in 22 towns, twelve of which fall partially or fully into service territories of six existing AMOs previously designated by Comcast. VTel was awarded $?Million in federal grants and loans, and another $500,000 from the State of Vermont to fund this upgrade as well as expand its cellular service to previously under-served rural parts of the state.

These overbuilds and partial town coverages are raising issues of funding, delivery of services, distribution of programming and other PEG access responsibilities of cable operators and AMOs. Most have not been sorted out and may require further amendment of PSB Rule 8.400.