Matt Bach, Director of Communications
Michigan Municipal League
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 19, 2012
Detroit Wins Major Cable Lawsuit
Michigan Municipal League’s Legal Defense Fund Assists in Court Case
A recent federal court decision regarding cable television regulation is a major victory for Detroit and possibly for many other Michigan communities down the road.
U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson ruled on July 10 that the law regulating uniform franchising of cable television can be interpreted to allow local governments to deny a request for approval of a video/cable television franchise renewal.
“Until now Michigan municipalities were led to believe that they had to approve a uniform franchise,” said William C. Mathewson, general counsel for the Michigan Municipal League (MML). The League’s Legal Defense Fund was involved in the case. “This ruling indicates a community can say no to an unfair application. This decision is significant because it casts substantial doubt on the historical view taken by the cable industry.”
In 2006, the Legislature passed Public Act 480 requiring uniform franchising regarding cable television. The law compromised local control of cable television regulation in Michigan. It has been argued that the law violates federal cable law and the Michigan Constitution, with Dearborn and now Detroit challenging aspects of the Michigan law, also known as the Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act.
The suit was brought by Detroit against Comcast and a federal district judge declared that portions of the state law are preempted by federal law. The court also adopted and approved the Michigan Attorney General’s position in the case that the law can be interpreted to allow local governments to deny a request for approval of a video/cable television franchise renewal.
The MML Legal Defense Fund, joined by the Michigan Townships Association, PROTEC, and the State Bar of Michigan Public Corporation Law Section, filed an amicus brief in support of Detroit, arguing that the Michigan law was inconsistent with the federal Cable Act, and that the law violated Article 7, Section 29 of the Michigan Constitution, which reserves franchising powers to local governments.
Cable operators have argued that the Uniform Video Services Act requires local governments to approve a uniform franchise adopted by the state, and have also argued that the Act modified all existing franchises so that only the provisions in the Uniform Act could be enforced.
Judge Lawson’s decision rejected those claims, finding that the Act does not require approval, only action on an application; and that the federal Cable Act prevented state law from modifying existing franchises. The court did not decide, but suggested that the Act could not prevent a local unit of government from protecting consumers, or from preventing redlining. Judge Lawson’s opinion supports local enforcement of these issues. The suit arose when Comcast refused to accept a franchise proposed by the city of Detroit that contained terms in addition to those in the uniform franchise.
The court has asked for additional briefing from the parties on what remedy is appropriate, and in general with the complexities of the issues involved it may be a while before the ramifications for Michigan municipalities are clear. The MML amicus brief was prepared by Joseph Van Eaton of Best Best & Krieger and Michael Watza of Kitch Drutchas; the city was represented by John Pestle of Varnum Riddering.
Detroit v. Comcast (PDF)
For more information contact Matt Bach, League Director of Communications, at 734-669-6317 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the League: The Michigan Municipal League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services.
About the MML Legal Defense Fund: Formed in 1983, the Legal Defense Fund provides support to communities in Michigan involved in significant litigation or other forms of controversy which could affect the organization, operation, powers, duties or financing of Michigan municipalities. The Fund is designed to assist, and not replace the municipal attorney, and offers assistance at the discretion of its Board of Directors.