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Cable Companies Win Lawsuit on Maine’s “à la Carte” Cable Law

Jeff Kotuby

A federal appeals court rejected a Maine law requiring cable companies to give subscribers the option of purchasing access to individual cable channels rather than bundled packages. A federal judge delayed the law from going into effect in 2019, and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston agreed that the law raises constitutional concerns.

The “à la carte” bill, passed in June 2019, sought to mandate that, “a cable system operator shall offer subscribers the option of purchasing access to cable channels, or programs on cable channels, individually.” In November 2019, Comcast, along with nine other cable broadcasters, including Disney, Fox Cable and NBC/Universal, requested a temporary restraining order on the law, with the former suing the state in September 2019. Comcast contended the law would mean limited choices and higher prices than the current packages it offers to consumers. Now, 2 years later, all parties involved finally have a resolution.

Supporters of the bill were critical of the fact that cable companies generally offer channels in bundled packages, forcing customers to pay for channels they don’t 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.

Had the law gone through, Maine would’ve been the first state to require à la carte” cable offerings.

While the law was made with customer’s best interests in mind, it wouldn’t necessarily mean they’d get a good deal. Cable channels, both large and small, would charge more for their channels if they were bundled. Larger channels like ESPN, Discovery, and Bravo would increase prices due to high demand but, in the case of smaller cable channels, they would have to raise prices in order to generate the revenue needed to stay around, putting a strain on the people who actually want them. With the rise of streaming services, though, viewers could see those smaller channels rebrand into a digital-only platform instead.

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