AUGUSTA, Maine — A federal court ruled in favor of Maine’s new broadband law on Wednesday, rejecting arguments made by a trade group for television and internet companies that found provisions aiming to extend broadband access and make public-access networks easier to find conflicted with federal law.
The bill that prompted that lawsuit was sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, and passed by the Legislature last summer. Among other provisions, the law required cable operators to extend service to areas with at least 15 homes per mile and to place public-access channels near local broadcasting stations in channel lineups.
The law received support from some local officials, who said that cable operators had made it more difficult to find public-access channels in recent years. In a public hearing last spring, one Augusta official testified that the public-access station once on Channel 7 had moved to Channel 1301. But cable companies argued at the time that the law would require them to make costly changes.
NCTA, the principal trade association for television and internet companies, challenged the law in court last fall, arguing that federal laws pertaining to public-access channels should preempt Maine law and that the law violated the first amendment rights of cable operators.
But U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen rejected both arguments, siding with the state that the the public-access provisions were aiming to protect consumers and fell within the purview of state regulations.
“There is no evidence that complying with the [public-access] provisions will significantly impact total bandwidth or that it will affect the cable operators’ ability to provide other services,” Torresen wrote in her decision.
In a statement on Wednesday, Attorney General Aaron Frey said he was “extremely pleased” with the ruling and would “vigorously defend” the law if there was an appeal.
The lawsuit is one of several that Maine has faced over the telecommunications laws passed last year. Several TV giants sued the state last fall over a law that would require cable companies to sell access to channels a la carte. In that case, Torresen ruled against the state, granting the cable companies a temporary injunction.
Internet service providers are also challenging a law that would prevent providers from using consumer’s information without permission. A ruling is expected later this year.