Cable Companies Ask for Temporary Restriction Order on à la Carte Cable Law

Comcast, along with nine other cable broadcasters, including Disney, Fox Cable and NBC/Universal, have requested a temporary restraining order on a law that would allow customers to pay for cable channels individually.

Back in September, the 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.” With prospects of the law going into effect on Sept. 19, the companies were seeking an injunction.

Now, it seems there is a 50 percent chance the companies may get their way as Federal District Court Judge Nancy Torreson of Maine is currently deliberating on whether to put a temporary hold on the law or not. There is no word on when she may come to her decision.

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.