AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine was sued for the second time in a week for a 2019 cable law overhaul on Friday, when a trade group argued that federal law preempts changes aimed at expanding cable access and making public-access networks easier to find in channel lineups.
The NCTA, a group representing broadband and cable providers including Comcast and Charter Communications, filed that lawsuit in U.S. District Court exactly a week after Comcast and cable giants sued in the same court over another law that would enshrine a la carte cable.
Those lawsuits are coming now because the laws passed by the Maine Legislature earlier this year are set to go into effect Sept. 19. In both cases, the companies want certain provisions delayed and argue that a judge should throw them out because of federal preemptions.
The bill that prompted Friday’s lawsuit was sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, and made several changes to cable laws including a mandate that providers extend service to areas with 15 homes per mile, place public-access channel near broadcast channels in TV lineups by making changes to the local franchising laws that underpin the cable system.
It was championed by municipal officials who run public-access networks that they said have often been shunted to hard-to-find places on dials. In Augusta, an official told a legislative panel in April that Charter moved a network that once was channel 7 in local lineups to channel 1301.
Comcast and Charter foreshadowed the lawsuit in testimony, saying the major changes were preempted by federal law and amounted to costly mandates that would be passed along to customers in their cable bills.
It was supported by Public Advocate Barry Hobbins and signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills after passing the Legislature without a roll-call vote. Marc Malon, a spokesman for Attorney General Aaron Frey, said the office had no comment on the lawsuit on Friday.
The NCTA lawsuit was filed against Maine and the towns of Freeport and North Yarmouth, which hold local franchising agreements with Comcast and Charter, respectively, by Joshua Dunlap of the Portland firm of Pierce Atwood and Washington, D.C., lawyers for the trade group.