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Judge Places Temporary Injunction on Maine’s à la Carte Cable Law

Jason Gurwin

Back in September, channel owners sued the state of Maine over a law passed that requires providing à la carte option cable subscribers. The law, which was passed in back in June, is called, “An Act to Expand Options for Consumers of Cable Television in Purchasing Individual Channels and Programs.” It mandates that “a cable system operator shall offer subscribers the option of purchasing access to cable channels, or programs on cable channels, individually.”

Now, a federal judge has stepped in to put a temporary halt on the new law meaning that it won’t go into effect until after the legal proceedings. The channel owners believe that it is a violation of First Amendment rights to require them to sell the channels individually. The judge on the case, Nancy Torresen, doesn’t believe that the state of Maine has shown that selling channels à la carte would reduce consumer costs.

Supporters of the bill are critical of the fact that cable companies generally offer channels in bundled packages, forcing customers to pay for channels they’re not interested in watching in addition to the ones they do want. However, critics argue that channels with more limited viewership wouldn’t be able to provide programming in places where the law is in effect and eventually could go out of business. Critics also argue that because the law doesn’t exempt local stations, people might only gravitate towards one and weaken financial support for the others.

If the restriction order doesn’t go through, Maine will become the first state in the country to require à la carte cable selections. The à la carte cable law would most likely be enforced by individual towns and cities, because the cable companies have franchise agreements with municipalities, The Portland Press Herald reports.

Though unbundling channels seems alluring to customers, it doesn’t necessarily mean they get the better end of the deal. Part of the reason that customers don’t necessarily benefit is that top cable channels, like ESPN, Discovery and Bravo, would charge more for their channels if they were bundled. In the case of smaller cable channels, they may be able to raise prices for the customers who really want their channels, but with fewer consumers paying for them, revenue would drop, and they might not survive. So while you would be paying for fewer channels, you would be paying more for each of them.

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