Community Television Association of Maine advocates for more oversight of cable video service providers

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 1:45pm

Under Federal Statutes and Maine law, video service providers in Maine have an obligation to support community  access television stations.  Called Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) cable channels, they are supported under the terms of franchise agreements between the video service providers and the communities served. PEG stations are often the only means of local mass communication in many communities, replacing newspapers that have ceased operation.  

There are two primary cable video service providers in Maine, Comcast and Charter/Spectrum.

IPTV (internet protocol television) providers such as Consolidated Communications are already beginning to provide cable TV like services over their facilities using the public right of way but are currently unregulated. 

The PEG stations are supported by the franchise fee the video service providers pay each municipality, up to 5% of the provider’s quarterly gross revenues. This cost is passed through to customers (which no other business does).

The Community Television Association of Maine (CTAM) supports Maine’s 54 community television access stations.

In 2018, CTAM, worked with a coalition of consumer-interest groups, cities, and towns in Maine to hold the cable industry accountable.

Working together, CTAM helped to pass, Public Law (PL) 245, “An Act To Ensure Non-Discriminatory Treatment of Public, Educational and Governmental Access Channels by the Cable Operator. The bill addressed years of discriminatory treatment by video service providers against PEG stations.

Video service providers fought the bill, but it has been upheld in the courts.

Between 2006 and 2018, ConnectMe, a state program to expand broadband, funded 144 infrastructure projects providing over $12 million which brought broadband to nearly 40,000 households.

According to Senator Angus King, The American Rescue Act will bring close to $100 million dollars into Maine for broadband expansion. 

CTAM believes this Act will provide funding to expand internet access to a large part of the state, reaching households, schools, and municipalities that have slow or no access to the internet.   We support this initiative and hope to see additional public access stations delivering information and resources to residents all over the State.

Cable television providers sometimes do not comply with the terms of the franchise contracts, and they have taken steps in the past to make it more difficult for PEG stations to deliver optimum picture quality on channels that are easy to locate. The video service providers also refuse to provide routine information that franchise contracts specifically state, and without the PEG stations engaging in expensive litigation, the video service providers win. Video service providers hold all the cards and money.

Another new bill is proposed, LD920, “Act to Promote Competitive Parity Among and Oversight of Video Service Providers,” submitted by Senator Christopher Kessler. This bill seeks to close the loopholes previously found and exploited by the video service providers.

The bill provides ample funding to the PUC for regulatory oversight to assist municipalities with franchise non-compliance issues that often require technical, financial, and legal resources that are not available to the towns and PEG stations.

It also requires video service providers to service and upgrade their own “PEG Facility Equipment” instead of transferring this expense to the municipality.

It authorizes a municipality and the Attorney General to bring an enforcement action against a noncompliant video service provider in accordance with its authority under the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.  This helps consumers, municipalities, and public access stations.

CTAM urges Maine citizens to contact their state representatives and senators and ask them to support LD920 and to hold the video service providers accountable.  The will be heard by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on March 30th

More info about the bill can be found at: https://ctamaine.org

Terri Wright is the Incoming Chair of the Community Television Association of Maine and director of Berwick Community Television