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Maine Returns Serve in Cable TV à la Carte Lawsuit

Jeff Baumgartner
10/11/2019

Maine Governor Janet Mills and several Maine municipalities and towns responded to a cable industry-led lawsuit looking to quash the state's new à la carte law, arguing that it's way too early to pull the trigger on the sought-after preliminary injunction.

Calling the cable industry allegations "purely hypothetical," the state argues that granting a preliminary injunction is not warranted, as the towns and cities cited in the cable-led lawsuit have no present intent to take action or enforce the new law. The opposition filing with the US District Court for the District of Maine filed on October 7 was coupled with about a dozen declarations from individual town managers stating as much.

The law in question -- titled "An Act To Expand Options for Consumers of Cable Television in Purchasing Individual Channels and Programs" and also known as L.D. 832 -- was passed on June 3, 2019, was enacted on June 15, and took effect on September 19. L.D. 832 reasons that cable TV customers should be able to pay only for the channels they want rather than having to pay for programming in operator-managed bundles.

The lawsuit, filed on September, argues that L.D. 832 pre-empts federal law and violates the First Amendment. It seeks a court order that preliminarily and permanently blocks the state from enforcing the new law. The suit, which includes Comcast and programmers such as A&E Television Networks, C-SPAN, Discovery, NBCU and Viacom among the plaintiffs, also grumbles that the law focuses only on cable operators and not on other types of pay-TV distributors.

The opposition to the motion for a preliminary injunction against L.D. 832 doesn't address the cable-only focus of the law. But it does present further arguments that the cable companies "lack standing" against the towns, that their claims "are not ripe," and that the cable side can't demonstrate that they would suffer "imminent irreparable injury" in the absence of the requested injunction. They also argue that a preliminary injunction would not serve the public interest, calling it "bad public policy" to let "deep-pocketed corporations force local municipalities into federal court under these circumstances…"

"The Cable Companies' claims against the Towns are entirely speculative and rest solely on future, contingent events that may not occur as anticipated or may not occur at all," the filing continues. "They are tilting at windmills. Thus, as to the Towns, an injunction should not be granted."

In the suit against L.D. 832, the cable companies argue that an à la carte model would break a pay-TV business model built on bundling economics, and that ultimately consumers would end up paying more if the model shifted to à la carte. They also held that programmers, under à la carte, would lose the advertising revenues generated from traditional tiered carriage models, resulting in higher license fees that cable operators would be forced to pass on to consumers.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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