PA 95-150-SB 360
Energy and Technology Committee


SUMMARY: The law requires cable TV companies to fund public access programming. This act
extends the requirement to companies using competing technologies and establishes a funding
formula. It extends other public access responsibilities to these companies once a franchise area is
subject to effective competition.
  The act also:
  1.   establishes a procedure for the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) to transfer
       responsibility for public access from a nonprofit organization to another entity;
  2.   requires the organization to undergo an independent audit, at its expense, when ordered to
       do so by DPUC at the request of the consumer counsel or the advisory council for the
       franchise area;
  3.   requires an organization that ceases operations to transfer its assets to a successor
       organization assigned responsibility for public access, or to another nonprofit organization in
       the franchise area selected by DPUC if there is no successor organization;
  4.   delays, from January 1 to February 15, the deadline for companies and organizations
       responsible for public access to submit their annual reports to DPUC; and
  5.   requires the advisory council for the area to review public access programming that has
       been the subject of a complaint.
  The act prohibits producers of community access programming from using it for commercial
purposes without the agreement of the company or organization that provided the facilities or staff
for the programming. The agreement must be in writing and entered into before any commercial use
and can provide for profit-sharing. If public access is administered by a nonprofit organization, it
must consult with the local cable company before making the agreement.
  By law, applicants for cable franchises must pay for an assessment of community needs,
conducted by an independent consultant. The act eliminates this requirement once an area is subject
to effective competition.
  The law requires cable companies to give their customers a credit or refund if their service is
interrupted for more than 24 hours. The act makes minor changes in this requirement to reflect
amendments to federal law defining various types of cable service.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 1995


Public Access Funding

  By law, cable TV companies must provide funding for public access programming. The act
extends this requirement to multichannel video program distributors. Under the act and federal law,
such distributors include companies that use satellite technologies to deliver programming as well
as cable TV companies. Under the act, such distributors also include owners of video dial tone (VDT)
systems. Currently, the Southern New England Telephone company owns a VDT system which
serves part of the state and carries video programming provided by other companies.
  Under the act, DPUC must require cable TV companies and other programming distributors to
assess each of their subscribers $5 per year to support public access. In the case of cable TV
companies, DPUC must incorporate this provision in the company's initial, renewal, or transfer
franchise. In the case of other programming distributors, DPUC must conduct a proceeding to
impose the assessment. In the case of VDT systems, the assessment must be made once a year, and
there is one assessment per subscriber, regardless of the number of companies providing
programming over the system. The assessment must be adjusted annually to reflect the change in
the consumer price index in the preceding calendar year.
  DPUC can increase or decrease the assessment by up to 40% ($2 on a $5 assessment). Before
making an adjustment, DPUC must consider:
  1.   the factors it must evaluate in choosing among nonprofit organizations seeking to assume
       responsibility for public access, including such things as recommendations of the cable
       advisory council and municipalities in the franchise area;
  2.   the degree of interest in public access in the franchise area, including the level and breadth
       of participation in access operations;
  3.   the need for educational access programming in the community;
  4.   the adequacy of facilities, equipment, and training programs to meet current and future
       needs; and
  5.   other factors it considers relevant.
  Before making an adjustment, DPUC must notify the company and, if relevant, the nonprofit
organization and provide an opportunity for a hearing. DPUC must adopt regulations to implement
all of these provisions.

Other Public Access Responsibilities

  The act extends other public access provisions that currently apply to cable companies to other
distributors once a franchise area is subject to effective competition. Under the act and federal law,
an area is subject to effective competition if:
  1.   fewer than 30% of the households in the area are cable company subscribers;
  2.   the area is served by two unaffiliated companies that each offer comparable programming to
       at least 50% of the households in the area, and
  at least 15% of the households in the area subscribe to the second largest company; or
  3.   the franchising authority (in Connecticut, the DPUC) offers service to at least 50% of the
       households in the area.
  DPUC must determine whether an area is subject to effective competition upon petition. It can
also act on its own initiative. If it finds that the area is subject to effective competition, the
distributors must comply with the same requirements that currently apply to cable companies. By
law, in addition to providing funding, cable companies must provide facilities and equipment and
technical and managerial support for public access. They must conduct outreach programs and
adopt scheduling policies to encourage diversity in programs. In addition, they cannot exercise
editorial control over public access, except as allowed by state and federal law.
  If the video programming is provided over a single VDT system, these requirements apply jointly
to all the companies providing such programming.

Transferring Responsibility for Public Access

  By law, a nonprofit organization can assume responsibility for public access operations with
DPUC's approval. The act requires DPUC to hold a hearing on the organization's ability to continue
in this role. DPUC must hold the hearing upon the petition of the consumer counsel, the advisory
council for the franchise area, or on its own motion. DPUC can subsequently reassign responsibility
for public access operations to another organization or to the cable company, using the same factors
it considered when making its original assignment.