Maine Drops Defense of A La Carte Law

Maine State House

(Image credit: Josh Lintz/Wikimedia Commons)

The state of Maine has conceded that the law mandating cable a la carte violated the First Amendment, so it will not be enforced.

According to the Portland [Maine] Press Herald, the Maine Attorney General is no longer defending the law, and in fact has conceded that it ran afoul of speech protections.

In 2019, Maine passed a law requiring cable operators, but not other video distributors, to offer every channel and program a la carte, rather than bundled in a channel or tier of channels. Customers would have to buy the basic package before having the a la carte option for other channels and programs.

Comcast, A&E, C-SPAN, Discovery, The Walt Disney Co., Fox Corp., NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and New England Sports Network (NESN) sued Maine Gov. Janet Mills, state Attorney General Aaron Frey and various cities and towns.

They argued the law was unconstitutional because it singled out cable speech for regulation, but excluded satellite or online video distributors, and said the law was pre-empted by the federal Communications Act. They then sought a preliminary injunction to block the bill’s implementation while the legal challenge was heard.

A district court enjoined enforcement of the law while the legal battle was waged. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, but according to the paper both parties asked the court to rule in favor of the cable challenge and the district court agreed, closing the case and meaning the law can't be enforced.

The Parents Television and Media Council, long a backer of a la carte as a way to give parents more control over the cable programming that comes into their homes, was not pleased.

“Yet again, the cable industry was able to wield its massive financial resources to thwart commonsense efforts by legislative, judicial and regulatory agencies attempting to give Americans greater control over the TV content they want coming into their homes," said PTC President Tim Winter. "This time it was a slick legal argument suggesting that the cable industry had been ‘singled out’ by the legislature. But the reality is that cable was only ‘singled-out’ because it is the only industry that forces a product bundle onto all consumers."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.