Comments on the Statewide Renewal of Verizon – Update

As most of you should be aware at this point, Verizon came before the Board of Public Utilities in September 2020 for the Franchise Renewal. The stakeholders and public were given a chance to speak at this meeting. Dave Garb and I constructed a letter that we sent to the BPU (see below), and I spoke at the hearing. It was never JAG’s intention to deny franchise renewal to Verizon, but rather to hold their feet to the fire so to speak on promises made and not kept, along with things missing that hurt PEG Stations. Recently Verizon has begun to respond to our requests. I have included our letter below and then have included their answers. Please note, not everything has been addressed at this point, but I feel this is a good start.

September 29, 2020
Attn. BPU – Office of Cable Television & Telecommunications
RE: Comments on the Statewide Renewal of Verizon. BPU Docket No. CE20080516

JAG – the Jersey Access Group, the non-profit organization representing local government, educational and public television channels throughout the state of New Jersey would like to submit our comments into the record regarding Verizon’s New Jersey Statewide Franchise renewal.
Local PEG (Public, Education, Government) stations are main source for community communications, news and involvement with our municipal government officials and school boards. These PEG stations provide important information directly to our local residents. This fact couldn’t be more apparent than during the current pandemic. PEG stations throughout the state have had to creatively redefine themselves in order to get vital messages out from their respective municipalities to the general public.
JAG would like the following concerns specific to Verizon franchise renewal to be considered:

HD (High Definition) Television has been around for over 15 years. By 2009, all television networks had switched to this amazing technology, except for PEG. PEG has been denied this technology and kept in the SD (Standard Definition) bottomless pit. The problem is, SD has gone away. Replacement equipment is no longer being made and impossible to obtain. PEG stations already have converted to HD equipment for content creation and play back, but now need to downgrade their signal to a sub-standard level for Verizon.

The Federal Cable Act states that we (PEG facilities) are not to be treated any differently from any other network/cable channel. It is evident in this situation PEG channels are. “So it appears that Verizon is now willing and have started to upgrade some the PEG stations delivery systems. Both Bloomfield and Scotch Plains have had new fiber systems and ONTs constructed at their locations in addition to having Verizon’s Encoders being placed at the stations end. This has allowed both stations to hand-off a digital HD-SDI signal to Verizon Encoder and not a composite, analog feed as in the past. In addition, they have configured their broadcast of this feed to be in a 16:9 format. However, at this point the channel is still not broadcast in HD, this is the first step in getting there. The same encoder newly installed is cable of encoding a HD feed and sending it to Verizon to be broadcast in HD”

To go along with the first point, PEG also has not been allowed to list their programming in the channel guides. In a time where people search programming guides and record programs from information listed in them, PEG channels have been left out. Again, PEG is treated differently. “We are waiting for a response”

Verizon never completed their buildout as originally proposed. Many municipalities are in limbo as to whether it will ever happen. Many smaller communities are still in need of cable competition and high speed internet access as promised by Verizon.
a. There are many communities in which Verizon has started buildout and has yet to complete it. Leaving portions of a municipality’s residents in the dark when it comes to local government communication, especially during a pandemic, when they do not have access to the local PEG channel. “We are waiting for a response”
b. Municipalities are often left to wonder where their local channel broadcasts to, as there is no clearly defined service map showing exactly were each PEG station broadcasts to. “We are waiting for a response”
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c. The lack of complete buildout in a community has left many municipalities and their stations in limbo. Many stations are broadcasting on the Verizon FiOS network, but because cable service has not been completed in their town, they cannot even get service to see their own PEG channel at their facility for oversight and quality control. “We are waiting for a response”

Currently most local government and PEG station managers have no local government contact information within Verizon that they can reach out to in case of an outage, broadcast issues and general questions. We strongly urge the BPU to demand that Verizon provide a local contact and their information to municipalities, PEG Stations and JAG Members.

“Verizon Response Below”
Verizon understands the importance of Public, Education and Government (PEG) programming and the need to address/resolve signal quality and outage issues as quickly as possible. Therefore, it is Verizon’s pleasure to inform you that Verizon’s National Network Management Center (NNMC) is available to PEG Program providers should PEG signal quality or outage issues occur. If you experience signal quality or outage issues with your PEG channel, please follow the instructions below to report the problem.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.
Sincerely,
Tanya Davis
Verizon Fios TV
NY & NJ Franchise Service Manager
111 Main St, 6th Floor
White Plains, NY 10601
(Office) 914-821-9681
(Mobile) 917-612-1614
Tanya.K.Davis@Verizon.com

PEG SIGNAL QUALITY OR OUTAGE ISSUES
The National Network Management Center (NNMC) is staffed with experienced Network Specialists currently working with National Broadcast Providers. The NNMC will provide more efficient and expeditious resolution of PEG signal quality or outage issues. The NNMC is available 24×7 and will immediately initiate PEG Network troubleshooting eliminating the need to call Franchise Service Managers when problems occur. Franchise Service Managers will remain a resource to PEG providers on PEG signal quality and outage issues as necessary.

WHAT PEG PROGRAM PROVIDERS NEED TO DO
Call the NNMC at 1-800-243-6994, Option 4, Option 2
• Identify yourself as a PEG Provider
• Provide the community and channel number(s) affected.
• Provide call back number and access information should a need to dispatch a technician be required.

WHAT THE NNMC WILL DO
• The NNMC will troubleshoot the Verizon Network to determine if the problem is connected with the Verizon Network.
• If necessary, a dispatch to the PEG provider site will be arranged.

PLEASE NOTE:
The NNMC is not responsible for provisioning the PEG monitoring drop. The PEG monitoring drop is a subscriber drop used for viewing PEG channels on the FiOS Network. For information on the PEG monitoring drop you need to call your Franchise Service Manager.”

Verizon has not adequately provided the proper production and post-production equipment (cameras, microphones, edit systems and more) as outlined in the original systemwide franchise agreement. In locations where they began to setup these repositories for equipment and training, municipalities were not notified of them, there is not clear and concise information on how to gain access to them and equipment currently on hand at them is outdated or no longer available.

“Verizon Response Below”
Verizon NJ PEG Training and Equipment Program

In areas where Verizon NJ provides cable television service, and with the assistance of select New Jersey County and Community Colleges (see list below), makes equipment and training programs available to municipal-authorized representatives or residents for use in the development of local programming content that can be shown on local community public, educational or government (“PEG”) access channels, pursuant to N. J.S. A. 48:SA-28(1). NJEdge is the program implementation coordinator for the PEG Training and Equipment Program (or the “Program”).

Through the Program, any municipal-authorized representative or resident can take a free Basic Video Production training course at a participating County or Community College and then be eligible to borrow a complete location video production system to record a community event or program. Once the video shoot is complete, the authorized representative or resident can edit the footage at the participating County or Community College in order to produce a complete video program, ready for broadcast on local PEG channels. An Advanced Video Production training course is also available, once the Basic Training has been successfully completed.

Participating County and Community Colleges are:

Bergen Community College James Quimby – jquimby@bergen.edu
Brookdale Community College Lauren Concar – lconcar@brookdalecc.edu
Essex County College Victoria Timpanaro – vtimpana@essex.edu
Gloucester County EN John Mondelli – jmondelli@gcecnj.org
Mercer County CC Steve Voorhees – voorhees@mccc.edu
Ocean County College Lee Kobus – lkobus@ocean.edu
Union County College Patrick Gallagher – gallagher@ucc.edu,

If you have any questions or need more information Forough Ghahramani at NJEdge at forough.ghahramani@njedge.net, or your local County or Community College.”

As outlined in the Board of Public Utilities Guide to Cable Franchise Renewal, “…is to examine the past performance of the cable operator and identify the future cable-related needs of the community.” We are not advocating that Verizon be refused their franchise renewal; rather, JAG respectfully requests that Verizon be held accountable to their original agreements and keep up with current technology and trends such as High Definition Broadcast of PEG channel. We believe this inequity should be rectified.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Bob Duthaler
President, Jersey Access Group
President, NJ NATOA
Member, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (EMMYS)

President’s Message Jan. 2021

2020 Ends and 2021 Begins …. What Changes?

Everyone was waiting for the clock to strike midnight and 2020 to come to
an end. This past year was full of turmoil, uncertainty, insecurity, grief and
sorrow. We saw job loss, sickness and people pushed to the edge both
mentally and politically. I do not need to dwell on the year past and all its
problems as well as having lived through it. What I do want to talk about is how JAG stepped up as an organization this year and recap some of the great things we accomplished. I will point out however, my remarks will be
brief and highlight some of the accomplishments of the different  committees. In the past newsletter you can read each committee’s year-end report in more detail.

The External Relations Committee has kept busy throughout this pandemic. They have provided enhancements to the JAG website, social media outlets and informational articles about our members in the newsletters. We have had new organizational members along with current members present at our JAG meetings and have made these presentations available to watch in a special member’s only section of the JAG website. The committee will continue to grow these features in this new year.

The Finance Committee has been keeping on top of the JAG budget, monitoring our expenses, finding ways to cut back and keep the organization solvent. The year 2020 was a year without a JAG Conference, which is an income source for the organization.  Fortunately, there were other areas of expense that we reduced or eliminated including attending the national NATOA conference and having a booth at the NJ League of
Municipalities – both of which are some of our major expenses.

The Production Committee started off 2020 very strong, finishing a series of videos for the NJ League of Municipalities. If you have not had a chance to see them, please visit the member’s only section of the JAG website to view them, you will not be disappointed. The committee has also been working with External Relations on releasing a series of JAG videos and testimonials. Look for a new YouTube Channel and other great things in 2021.

The Conference Committee: Since there was no conference in 2020, the
conference committee was disbanded. An exploratory committee was created late in the year and has recommended that the JAG Executive Board create a new committee. This will be brought up at the annual re-organization meeting. If there is a conference it will be virtual with a lot of exciting new sessions for members along with a trade show element.

The Legislative Committee also started off very promising with bills in the House and Senate supporting PEG Stations, but par for 2020, they were derailed when COVID-19 hit. However, this did not keep the committee from reaching out and having conversations with our legislators, getting some to sign on to the bills and keeping an open dialogue with them. In addition, JAG weighed in on the Verizon re-franchise in New Jersey. You can read more about that in another one of my articles in this newsletter.

The Membership Committee is focusing in on you and your needs. They continue to evaluate what our members are looking for, discussing with the various committees and the board to let them know. In addition, we have expanded membership and are reaching out to non-profits with interests in common with JAG. If you have not recently heard from the membership committee, please answer their call as they conduct a survey to evaluate our membership needs.

The JAG Awards are coming, the JAG Awards are coming!! The committee was hard at work in 2020 and are now working on reinventing the awards and providing an additional benefit to the members. Be on the lookout for the official announcement in next month’s newsletter. The first entry will be at no charge – compliments of JAG! Get your best work together from 2020!

Leadership Development is JAG’s newest committee and are charged with a lot. They are responsible for helping create the material that will help this organization, including Welcome Letters, Marketing Materials and other “Tools” that the various committees will use. This committee is comprised of members from each of JAG’s other committees.

As you can see, JAG persevered through 2020 and is in good shape for 2021. The Board of Trustees set some goals at its 2020 retreat which will be discussed further during the annual Reorganization Meeting on Wednesday, January 13th. Our main focus is and will remain our members, for you are the strength of our organization. We will continue to find better ways to serve you via social media, website enhancements, webinars, social hangouts and more. The organization will continue to provide educational opportunities to its members through various sources including presentations and our annual conference. We continue to partner with state organizations like the NJ League of Municipalities and national organizations such as the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and The Alliance for Community Media to keep on top of legislation and changes in political climate. The JAG Executive Board will work together with the idea of supporting our membership, providing them the tools necessary to succeed and much more.

Finally, as I mention each month in my article, JAG as an organization is a very social group. Face to face interaction at this point continues to not be possible but there are work arounds. I encourage you to take part in these events, webinars, monthly virtual meetings, impromptu online gatherings and perhaps an online happy hour! Stay Home, Stay Safe and make the most of this time with your family and loved ones.

Bob Duthaler

President, Jersey Access Group