A federal appeals court on Tuesday gave new life to a Maine law making cable companies refund certain customers who cancel accounts before the end of the month.
The measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, was one of three cable policy bills passed by the Democratic-led Legislature in 2019 challenged in court by telecommunications interests that argued all were preempted by federal law.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston reversed a lower court’s ruling to that effect on Tuesday, finding that Maine’s law does not constitute unlawful state regulation of cable rates but is rather a permitted consumer protection measure governing a period of time after service.
The cable industry has had mixed results in fighting Maine’s cable policy push: After a court loss, the state gave up a fight over a pioneering law that would have required a la carte cable in spring 2020, but the 1st Circuit upheld another law in August that aims to keep cable providers from shunting local public-access networks to high and hard-to-find places in channel lineups.
This court challenge was led by Charter Communications, the company that sells cable and internet service under the Spectrum brand. It could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but such appeals are rarely successful and a company spokesperson declined comment.
“It is unfortunate that this law was even necessary, and I was disappointed that one cable company chose to challenge the law in federal court instead of simply doing right by its customers,” Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement.
Berry’s law was prompted by a Spectrum policy change. It would grant subscribers a prorated credit for their bill if they request disconnection three or more days before the end of their monthly billing period. The company argued that it would incur major costs to comply with the new law that would affect cable rates.