Call it a labor of love. For the past 11 years, Harold Pachios has hosted “Pachios on the News” on Portland’s Community Television Network, a monthly interview on the news of the day with guests from all over the political landscape.

So imagine Pachios’ chagrin when his loyal viewers began stopping him in the supermarket last fall to say, “Gee, I love your show! But I can’t find it anymore – what happened to it?”

“Which is exactly what the cable company wanted to happen,” Pachios, a founding partner of the Portland law firm Preti Flaherty, said in an interview Friday. “Precisely their goal is that people no longer watch it and it goes away.”

He was talking about the cable giant Spectrum, which last fall turned public-access channel viewing into a game of hide-and-seek. Specifically, the company moved its public-access programming from its traditional single-digit placements on the channel listings to 1300 and higher.

Spectrum’s laugh-out-loud explanation for the switch: It makes public-access channels easier to find. People like it better this way.

“I don’t believe a word they say,” Pachios said. “Nothing. Zero.”


Neither, apparently, did the Maine Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills, who earlier this month passed and signed a law requiring Spectrum, among other things, to put the public-access channels back where they belong.

Tony Vigue, who ran South Portland’s public-access station for 21 years before retiring in 2016, led the charge. Now a consultant for local communities who need all the help they can get dealing with Spectrum, Vigue has become a much-needed thorn in the company’s side, a guru on all things cable who knows a con job when he sees one.

Vigue said in an interview Friday that the new law, which will take effect in November, counters what to him is a bald-faced effort by Spectrum to effectively put public-access programming out of business.

The theory goes like this: By moving the public-access channels to what Vigue calls “the nosebleed section,” Spectrum ensures that fewer people will watch the municipal government meetings and other locally produced programming that cable companies must by law make available to their subscribers.

The more viewership drops, the less grassroots support the public-access stations have when it’s time for a municipality to renew its franchise agreement with Spectrum. Thus, the easier it becomes for Spectrum to get out from under its obligation to fund public-access programming through franchise fees and capital grants for cameras, microphones and other equipment.

At the same time, Vigue maintains, Spectrum can then take the prized low-number slots previously used for public-access programming and sell them, for big bucks, to a shopping network or some other commercial programmer.


“They have no interest in doing community stuff at all,” Vigue said. “It’s all about the bottom line.”

To be sure, not everyone watches public-access programming. But those who do have long appreciated the role it plays not just in our communities, but in our democracy.

If there’s a local parade, Vigue notes, “we tape the whole damn parade.”

And if there’s a selectmen’s meeting or a planning board hearing, you can watch start-to-finish from your own living room. Better yet, if you have something stuck in your craw, you can head down to the town hall and speak your piece – not just to the powers that be, but to all your neighbors watching from home.

Spectrum defends its shell game by insisting that viewers now prefer the grouping of channels by theme – meaning if they know the public-access stuff is all in the 1300 range, that’s where they will go.

Baloney, said Vigue, noting that Spectrum’s claim to be grouping channels by subject matter “goes right out the window when you look at their actual channel lineup.”


Pachios, one of many who joined Vigue this spring in testifying for the new law, similarly scoffs at the idea that public-access viewers will naturally gravitate toward what many Spectrum critics have come to call “digital Siberia.”

“A lot of people scroll with their remotes,” Pachios said, noting the cluster of local news and public television stations between channels 6 and 13 on Spectrum’s Portland lineup. Before it got bumped into outer space, the Community Television Network – home to “Pachios on the News” – occupied Channel 5.

“Then they moved it to one thousand, three hundred and three,” Pachios said. “No one has ever been known to scroll from Channel 6 or Channel 10 or Channel 13 to one thousand, three hundred and three.”

The new law, sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome, R-Waterboro, sailed through the Legislature with relatively little opposition. That pleased Vigue on the one hand but makes him nervous on the other.

While Spectrum could easily comply with the new statute, Vigue said, “their other option, of course, is to ignore the law and have the attorney general come after them.”

His fears may be well founded. Andrew Russell, director of communications in the Northeast for Charter Communications, which owns Spectrum, said in a brief email Friday that the new law “violates federal law in a number of different areas … and ignores the reality of how consumers today are finding and watching their favorite TV content.”


Meaning this fight isn’t over. Because cable companies aren’t regulated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission like electric, phone and water companies are, it would fall to Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey to pursue Spectrum through the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act should the company simply snub its nose at Augusta.

“We’ll see how much backbone the AG has in enforcing it if it comes down to that,” Vigue said.

Meanwhile, all of Maine should be grateful to Vigue for pushing back on Spectrum and protecting Maine’s decades-old network of public-access stations from death by a thousand channel positions.

“Tony is credible because he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He’s an expert,” Pachios said. “And it’s so rare to find an expert whose interest is the public. Most experts, their interest is the company that pays them.”

As for Spectrum, Pachios said, “I would almost guarantee they won’t do the right thing.”

In other words, fellow public-access supporters, stay tuned.

While you still can.

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