Charter/Spectrum wants to make public cable TV less accessible

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) and “Born Yesterday” (1950) both portray the deleterious effect of corporate lobbying in the halls of Congress and should always be “required viewing” for those in power. Charter Communications, new to Maine in 2016, has been the subject of complaints received by the Attorney General’s office for non-compliance with State cable franchising laws and would benefit from the lessons learned in those two films.  Better known by their product line “Spectrum” and newly energized by a reported $9.9 billion dollar profit in 2017 thanks partially to the new federal tax bill, Charter/Spectrum flexed their corporate muscles in February and joined with Comcast lobbyists to squash (along strict party lines) a small piece of proposed emergency legislation that would have benefited 300,000 cable viewers in Maine. The one page bill, created with the help of a loosely organized group of Town Managers, Select Boards and Community Television volunteers with legal counsel, was sponsored by Senator David Miramant (D-Camden). If passed by the legislature, it would have prevented cable operators in Maine from moving the local Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) channels from the easy to find single digit locations on cable TV systems where they have been for 30 years, up into a digital limbo in the 1301, 1302 etc. channel locations. Charter maintains that this is a necessary part of their “digital encryption” project but fails to mention why the local commercial broadcast channels are not being moved as well. Ironically, it is because of the prime location on the dial that Charter has taken this step as those lucrative channel locations can be leased to shopping networks, generating significant new revenue for the cable operator. By making the PEG channels less conspicuous and less viewed, Towns will be less likely to require increased franchise fees and capital grants from cable operators at franchise renewal times, a double win for the cable industry. In addition, Charter refuses to carry local PEG channels in high definition and will down convert the HD signals to near VHS quality even if HD signals are provided to them by the PEG originator. Both issues and other enhanced consumer protections will be addressed in a new version of the bill which will be re-introduced in the next session of the legislature. Until then, our group stands ready to debate these issues with cable industry representatives in a televised open forum as opposed to behind closed doors at the State House. Stay tuned.

Tony Vigue