Comcast seeks pause on Maine's a la carte cable channel law

A lawyer representing Comcast said Maine's law “would upend the economics of this industry.” (Comcast)

Comcast and a group of cable programmers are seeking a restraining order to block Maine’s new a la carte cable channel from being enforced.

According to Maine's Portland Press Herald, Federal District Court Judge Nancy Torreson has yet to rule on Comcast’s decision for a temporary hold on the law that went into effect in September. The requested hold is the latest development in an ongoing legal battle between Comcast and Maine.

In September, Comcast and media companies including Disney, NBCUniversal and Fox filed a lawsuit against Maine and 17 small towns. The complaint – aimed at Governor Janet Mills, Attorney General Aaron Frey and several Maine municipalities – is seeking to delay the Sept. 19 effective date and throw out the law entirely. Comcast and the others argue that the law is preempted by federal law, that it violates free speech and that it puts smaller, niche channels at risk and therefore could adversely affect programming diversity.

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Matthew Brill, a lawyer representing Comcast and the other plaintiffs, told the publication that in addition to potentially violating Comcast’s First Amendment rights, the law “seeks to alter, fundamentally, the way cable service is provided,” and “would upend the economics of this industry.”

If it’s upheld, Maine’s a la carte law would be the first in the country to require cable providers to let customers pay for only the channels they want, which is a feature that studies have shown would likely be popular with pay TV subscribers. According to TiVo’s newest Video Trends Report for the second quarter of 2019, 69.9% of consumers are interested in buying only the channels they want to watch, down just slightly from 70.9% last year.

“While à la carte channel packaging may seem like an attractive option for some, the act of selecting each individual channel may, in fact, be a daunting task for others,” wrote TiVo in a report.