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”
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.
Verizon Fios TV
NY & NJ Franchise Service Manager
111 Main St, 6th Floor
White Plains, NY 10601
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.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brookdale Community College Lauren Concar – email@example.com
Essex County College Victoria Timpanaro – firstname.lastname@example.org
Gloucester County EN John Mondelli – email@example.com
Mercer County CC Steve Voorhees – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ocean County College Lee Kobus – email@example.com
Union County College Patrick Gallagher – firstname.lastname@example.org,
If you have any questions or need more information Forough Ghahramani at NJEdge at email@example.com, 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.
President, Jersey Access Group
President, NJ NATOA
Member, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (EMMYS)