President's Message | September 17, 2019

A Look Into Maine's Fight Against the Cable Industry

Does the First Amendment give cable companies the right to degrade signals from community PEG channels to make them unwatchable?  Or to eliminate or rewrite program information about the channels themselves? 

We don’t think so. And no one programming a channel or producing ANY kind of program would agree with the idea.  

But that’s what the cable industry would have you believe as it once again weaponizes the First Amendment to get its way and exercise power over consumers and communities.   NCTA has filed for injunctions in court against two laws in the state of Maine that affect cable viewers, and in both cases they are using the First Amendment as a fig leaf to protect their unwillingness to properly serve the people in Maine.

Both bills passed with bi-partisan agreement as both Republicans and Democrats said consumers deserve better.  The first – LD 832 – mandates ala carte channel options in Maine.  The bill may well be preempted by Federal law because of the existence of basic tier requirements for all cable viewers.  And community channels benefit from being on the basic tier, so they would be helped if this bill is pre-empted. But even so, the cable industry wants to promote the idea that it violates their publishing rights. 

The other bill – LD 1371 - prohibits discrimination against PEG channels and orders Charter/Spectrum to move PEG channels back to locations near the broadcast tier – reversing their channel slamming activity from last year.  And once again the cable industry is claiming that they have the right per se to do what they want with any channel on their system – that technical requirements are “editorial”.

This clearly can’t be the case – but it’s indicative of the systematic approach the industry is taking to try to eliminate any and all public interest requirements to protect their “rights”.  If it were true, then they would be able abuse their position of power with all competitors on their systems to ensure that viewers only watch channels of which they approve.  That violates the Cable Act. 

Why should you care about this fight in Maine? Well, if the cable industry wins, it is your fight as well as the industry, as this specious argument will spread to ratchet down benefits all across the country, not just in Maine.

Expect more on these cases in the months ahead – ACM will be working with our members and partners to protect consumers and channels in Maine and beyond.

Mike Wassenaar
ACM President & CEO