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Maine Considers New Law Forcing Cable Companies to Sell TV Channels A-La-Carte

Charter Spectrum serves a significant part of the state of Maine.

The Maine state government is reviewing a measure that would require all cable operators in the state to offer customers the chance to buy individual cable channels instead of being forced into a large and costly package of dozens, if not hundreds of unwanted TV channels.

“The senior citizens in my area want to watch the Boston Red Sox,” says Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship. “The package that Spectrum is offering in Maine that includes the Red Sox costs about a hundred bucks. These people are making $800 bucks a month on Social Security. They’re bemoaning to me at the doors, you know, ‘I can’t afford television anymore Jeff.’ And they grew up in an era when television was free.”

Maine Public Radio reports Evangelos’ solution is an insertion of a single sentence into the state franchising law:

A cable system operator shall offer subscribers the option of purchasing access to cable channels, or programs on cable channels, individually.

The proposed change won support from a state legislative committee, but scorn from cable industry lobbyists that claim the proposed measure violates federal law.

Chris Hodgdon, a Comcast lobbyist, pointed to the specific statute forbidding states from telling cable operators how to conduct business: “No state shall regulate the products, rates, services of a cable provider.”

Charter Spectrum’s regional lobbyist Melinda Kinney warned any such law would likely face immediate court challenges. Kinney complained the measure was unfair because it targets cable operators while excluding satellite and streaming providers. But consumer advocates argue that the law could actually help the cable industry as cord-cutting becomes a national phenomenon. Subscribers agree.

“I’d sign back up for cable TV in a minute if I could pick my own channels and pay a reasonable price,” said Jack Winters, 71, a former Comcast customer near Brunswick. “Comcast makes you take all or nothing so I took nothing. I miss not getting Fox News Channel, Turner Classic Movies, and Hallmark, but my bank account doesn’t.”

Sen. Angus King, the independent senator from Maine, has done his part to investigate whether such a state law would violate federal deregulation measures. He took the proposal to the FCC.

Patrick Webre, chief of the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau responded that no state has passed such a law before, so he couldn’t say much:

“In your letter you asked whether a state mandate that a cable operator provide a-la-carte services would be pre-empted by federal law. This poses a question of first impression, and we could not locate any specific Commission rules that addresses your exact issue. Thus we are not in a position to express an opinion on the question you raise.”

Under the Trump Administration, however, the Republican majority controlling the FCC would likely oppose the measure because it would introduce new regulations on the industry, something that has historically been anathema to Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr, formerly a lawyer for Wiley Rein, which represents the interests of several large telecom companies, would likely also oppose the measure.

The bill now moves to the full Legislature on a tri-partisan vote of 8-2 and will be debated first in the House.

A proposed new law would require cable operators in Maine to sell individual cable channels to customers. (4:08)

Spectrum’s First Original Show, “L.A.’s Finest” Is Out of Touch and “Tonally Disastrous”

Spectrum TV subscribers are the only ones in the country that can watch Charter Communications’ first original Spectrum-exclusive production, “L.A.’s Finest,” available only on demand, on a channel somewhere in the thousands, if you or anyone else can find it.

A Variety review suggests a search to find the hour-long drama isn’t worth the effort:

“L.A.’s Finest” isn’t just a cop show. It’s a gambit — a bet placed by cable provider Spectrum that by providing not just access to HBO and HGTV but original programming of its own, it’ll stand out. The series, a Jerry Bruckheimer production set within the universe of his “Bad Boys” film franchise, is the beginning of a stream of on-demand Spectrum Originals programming that will also include, eventually, a comeback for “Mad About You.”

The idea of providing some added value to subscribers through original programming is a reasonable enough one (why not get in a game with so many players already?). But this particular show seems ill-suited to its format: Meant to live on an on-demand platform, this drama seems oddly unlikely to have been specifically demanded by anyone at all. A tonally disastrous half-comedy, half-melodrama about policing that draws in cartel politics and family angst, “L.A.’s Finest” seems designed to be vaguely, generically acceptable to have on in the background — which makes it a strange choice as the launching point for a set of programs that would seem to require viewers affirmatively choosing to tune in.

As cord-cutting grows epidemic, cable companies are looking for ways to keep you hooked to your cable TV package, and after watching Netflix and Hulu produce original series, why can’t cable companies do it too? Charter’s first original production stars Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba as two female cops that sometimes take matters into their own hands in the cause of justice, while balancing family and relationships. Sometimes a drama, sometimes a comedy, the show feels like a network series reject from 20 years ago. It’s not the traditional police procedural that de-emphasizes the home life and character development of its stars, a-la Law & Order. Instead, it occasionally reminds viewers of the interwoven drama of NYPD Blue, a series now long gone.

Spectrum’s effort rubs against the grain in another way: although offering the first three episodes for immediate viewing, future episodes will be rationed out a little at a time, defeating today’s streaming reality of binge watching. The next two episodes are due May 20. Spreading out the nine episodes of season one could be a dangerous idea for a mediocre show that will require viewers to come back again and again to catch up. Many won’t. Others may never find the show in the first place, lost in cable TV Channel Siberia. Your best bet is to find the On Demand channel on your Spectrum lineup and it probably will be there. If you fall in love with the show, bookmark its streaming home page. You will get regular updates about future episodes.

If you do not have a Spectrum TV subscription, tough luck — no L.A.’s Finest for you. But considering the caliber of Spectrum’s first foray into original productions, that probably is not much of a loss.

A trailer for Spectrum TV’s original production, L.A.’s Finest. (1:48)

New Yorkers: The PSC Wants Your Views on the Charter Spectrum Settlement

Back in April, Charter Communications and staffers from the New York Department of Public Service (Public Service Commission) reached a tentative settlement to resolve a dispute over whether Charter violated the terms of the 2016 Merger Order granting approval of the acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

Most of the contention came over Charter’s ability to meet the timeline for expanding cable service to an additional 145,000 unserved address in New York State and whether the company counted ineligible addresses towards their target.

Under the terms of the settlement, which still requires approval by the Commission, Charter agrees to:

  1. Continue to invest in network expansion to bring high speed broadband to 145,000 unserved addresses in New York outside of the New York City metropolitan area.
  2. Complete expansion no later than September 30, 2021, under a schedule that will be closely monitored by state regulators to ensure compliance.
  3. Agree, over and above the original merger conditions, to spend an additional $12 million for broadband expansion projects to be selected by the PSC and the New York State Broadband Program Office (including some addresses previously assigned HughesNet satellite broadband.)

The PSC now wants to receive comments from interested parties about the proposed settlement. If the agreement is approved, Charter Spectrum will remain in New York as the state’s largest cable operator.

How to Comment:

Make sure to reference: “Case 15-M-0388 – Settlement Agreement” in your written comments.


Comments may be entered directly into the case file by clicking here. Then click on the “Post Comments” button at the top of the page and input your comments using the form provided.


Send comments to: Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, Secretary, at [email protected]


Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess
Public Service Commission
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223-1350

All comments must be received by July 8, 2019.

Apple iOS Update Includes Apple TV App for Subscribing to Streaming Services

Phillip Dampier May 13, 2019 Apple TV, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Apple today released a software update for iOS device owners and some smart televisions that includes a new Apple TV streaming app designed to simplify the online streaming experience.

The Apple TV app works similarly to Roku’s collection of subscription services. Through the app, viewers in 100 countries can subscribe to individual networks and access them without launching multiple separate apps to watch. Apple TV app also manages billing and collects viewing interests to provide recommended new shows and movies.

At present, most premium channels are available through the app for subscription, but you will pay a non-discounted price for each service, often at a premium. HBO, for example, can be had for as little as $5 a month through some platforms, but costs $14.99 through Apple TV. Other services often run their own discounted specials, but Apple TV customers will not get that pricing. Cord Cutters News reports these networks were available for purchase as of this morning (others are being beta tested):

  • HBO
  • Showtime
  • Starz
  • Cinemax
  • Epix
  • Smithsonian Plus
  • PBS Living
  • Acorn TV
  • Sundance Now
  • Lifetime Movie Club
  • Urban Movie Channel
  • Tastemade
  • Curiosity Stream
  • MTV Hits
  • Comedy Central Now

Apple TV is a precursor to the company’s more elaborate streaming and original content platform — Apple TV+ — expected to launch this fall. For now, Apple is taking a cut from reselling other companies’ content and wrapping it around its own interface. Some early subscribers report Apple TV subscribers get more generous multiple viewer allowances, and a large selection of live streams of certain networks like HBO that are not even available from HBO’s own app. Because finding content across a wide array of subscription services is becoming more complicated, users can also access a search utility to find favorite shows.

By developing its own ecosystem, Apple hopes to build an audience and subscriber loyalty by getting customers accustomed to visiting Apple TV to access their subscription content, which gives Apple an audience to sell other programming and content. In return, customers will not have to install multiple apps, or keep track of usernames and passwords for each of them.

Owners of recent Apple devices, as well as those with 2019 Samsung smart TVs (and some 2018 models) will find software updates including Apple TV starting today. Later this year, customers with certain Vizio, LG and Sony TVs will be able to use the TV app using AirPlay 2.

There are some caveats. Netflix is missing. The largest streaming provider in the world has made it clear it will not be a part of the Apple TV app. Also, only a handful of cable and streaming providers have signed on to allow customers to authenticate their TV subscriptions through the Apple TV app so far: Charter Spectrum, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue.

Those looking for convenience might find the Roku or Apple TV platforms a good place to bring content from multiple services together, but those looking for the best price will save money shopping around for subscription deals not available from Apple TV.

Charter/Spectrum Will No Longer Pro-Rate Your Bill When You Cancel Services

Phillip Dampier May 6, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 2 Comments

Charter Spectrum will soon charge you for a full month of service, even if you downgrade or cancel in the middle of a billing cycle, ending a decades-old practice of issuing a partial month credit for dropped services you no longer want or need.

Tucked into customers’ May billing statements, Charter Spectrum announced it intends to stop giving partial refunds for service effective June 23, 2019:

The financial benefit to Charter Spectrum is substantial, because customers will be forced to pay for a full month of service even if they cancel during the first week of a new billing cycle. The cable industry has been gradually shifting away from issuing partial month credits after other telecom companies, notably Windstream and wireless operators, moved to “full month billing – no refunds for partial month” billing.

Cablevision/Optimum was among the first cable companies to stop issuing credits for disconnects that occur before the billing cycle ends. It led to a 2017 class action case against Cablevision, now owned by Altice USA, filed by an ex-customer. A 2018 ruling dismissed the class action case, compelling the plaintiff to use mandatory arbitration, required of all new subscribers. The final disposition of the case is unknown. Charter Spectrum maintains a similar clause in its own terms and conditions.

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