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Maine has become the first state to pass a law against discriminatory practices against local cable channels by cable service providers. As of this article’s publishing, the NCTA has filed suit over the newly enacted law. CTAM is currently in a battle to save this legal precedent. Randy Visser was a founding member of CTAM and currently works as a sales engineer for Cablecast Community Media.
CABLECAST COMMUNITY MEDIA IS MATCHING THE FIRST $1000 IN DONATIONS MADE BY NOV 1, 2019. CLICK HERE TO DONATE TODAY
If you’ve ever been to Maine you may have experienced a unique strength and determination in the people you meet. This is a big, beautiful, rugged, mostly rural state with a long history of “do it yourself” determination and independent spirit. People in this part of the country do not like being pushed around by big corporations, or told that they have to take what’s given, even after giving over our public right-of-ways for these corporations to do business. So, when Charter Cable’s Spectrum division came into the state over the past few years and began “slamming” these channels into the 1300s, CTAM, the Community Television Association of Maine, decided to fight back. It’s part of our proud Patriot heritage.
Under the leadership of our past president, Tony Vigue—a true Patriot if ever there was— a small group of CTAM members began to talk about the clearly discriminatory action of the cable industry not providing HD channels, or channel locations that people can find, or a person we can call at the cable company when we need help. It seems like such an obvious argument, but we were not aware that anyone else had ever questioned the industry on their discriminatory practices with local channels. We reached out to communications lawyer Jim Horwood, of the DC law firm Spiegel & McDiarmid, to give us his legal opinion on this question of discrimination. Jim told us he thought we had a strong argument, and that if we could document these issues around the state, we might have something. Jim helped CTAM draft a carefully worded piece of legislation that we felt could potentially be passed by the Maine Legislature.
Tony worked tirelessly, and without compensation (he recently retired as Director of the South Portland, Maine Community Channel, SPC-TV) and lined up some legislative representatives from his region to sponsor the bill. We reached out to our state membership and began conducting weekly Wednesday morning briefings on the process. Who’s on the Legislative PUC committee, where the bill will be heard, and what kind of relationship do they have with their local channel?
People on the fringes of this movement took notice as the legislative process began to unfold. The first person to testify in front of the Public Utilities Committee (PUC) was Harold Pachois, an iconic lawyer from Portland, Maine who worked in the Lyndon Johnson administration as a press liaison under Bill Moyers, and later represented some of Maine’s political heavyweights including Senators Muskie and Mitchell. Mr. Pachois, it turns out, had been hosting a popular weekly talk show “On The News” produced at Portland’s CTN Public Access channel. When Spectrum “slammed” this channel to the 1300s Harold’s viewers couldn’t find his show. His testimony to the PUC turned heads and by the end of the hearing it was clear that our elected representatives were on the side of the people.
The bill, titled “An Act To Ensure Nondiscriminatory Treatment of Public, Educational and Governmental Access Channels by Cable System Operators” was passed by the full Maine Legislature and signed into law by our Governor, Janet Mills, someone who has followed these issues as the former state AG. The new laws (a second cable bill was successfully passed forcing the industry to provide “A La Carte Programming” options for viewers) are now being challenged in court by the NCTA (National Cable Television Association).
As a founding member of CTAM, and someone who has worked on these issues for over 30 years, I am excited to see that our often fragile democracy is still working. Communities in Maine ARE using these channels and people still care. This region of the country is full of people like Tony Vigue and Harold Pachois, true Patriots who work for the common good of our society, and our rights to communicate with one another over any system that uses our right of ways to deliver content. And when you think about it, that’s really what our original Patriots fought so hard to protect.
Visit the CTAM website to stay updated on this ongoing legal battle.
If you would like to see Maine's non-discrimination law continue, you or your organization might consider making a donation to CTAM for ongoing legal fees. Cablecast Community Media is matching the first $1000 in donations placed by Nov 1, 2019. Contribute via GoFundMe here.