PSB To Hold Hearings On VTel, Springfield Community TV Dispute

Nov 24, 2015

The Public Service Board has agreed to open a hearing to settle a long running dispute between VTel and Springfield Area Public Access Television (SAPA).

Springfield's public access station says it's been trying to negotiate a contract with VTel to serve the Springfield and Chester communities since January 2012.

VTel, a Springfield-based telecommunications company that provides voice, Internet and television service, is required to support public access stations under terms of its certificate of public good.

VTel does partner with stations in Bellows Falls, White River Junction, Rutland and Woodstock. But, according to the Public Service Department, VTel has not proven that it's serving customers in Chester and Springfield.

The Springfield station says negotiations are at a standstill, and the Public Service Board is being asked to rule on the contract talks.

A representative for the Springfield station declined to comment, because negotiations are ongoing.

"In this process SAPA and VTel Cable seem to be having a dispute as to terms of the contract that they're trying to negotiate for the provision of public access," Department of Public Service Telecommunications Director Jim Porter said. "And so SAPA has petitioned the board to intervene and the board has the jurisdiction to make a ruling in this dispute."

VTel did not return calls seeking comment.

But in a June 1 letter to the Public Service Board a VTel representative said that "the absence of a shared technology vision was a fatal difference that could not, and would not, be overcome."

"SAPA and Vtel Cable seem to be having a dispute as to terms of the contract that they're trying to negotiate for the provision of public access. And so SAPA has petitioned the board to intervene and the board has the jurisidiction to make a ruling in this dispute." - Jim Porter, DPS telecommunications director

Vtel is allowed to ask for a waiver, but the Public Service Department says the company has not yet petitioned the board for an exception.

Springfield Area Public Access Television first asked the Public Service Board to get involved in May 2015.

After months of back-and-forth between the three parties the Public Service Board ruled on Nov. 19 that it would open hearings to arbitrate the contract dispute.

If the company cannot demonstrate that it is meeting the needs of customers in Springfield and Chester, then the Public Service Board has the authority to arbitrate terms between VTel and Springfield Area Public Access.