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Comcast Sues Maine To Stop Law Requiring Sale of Individual TV Channels

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Comcast and several TV network owners have sued the state of Maine to stop a law that requires cable companies to offer a la carte access to TV channels. The complaint in U.S. District Court in Maine was filed Friday by Comcast, Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal, A&E Television Networks, C-Span, CBS Corp., Discovery, Disney, Fox Cable Network Services, New England Sports Network, and Viacom. The companies claim the Maine law — titled “An Act To Expand Options for Consumers of Cable Television in Purchasing Individual Channels and Programs” — is preempted by the First Amendment and federal law. The Maine law is scheduled to take effect on September 19 and says that “a cable system operator shall offer subscribers the option of purchasing access to cable channels, or programs on cable channels, individually.” The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the law from being enforced. “I submitted this bill on behalf of Maine’s hundreds of thousands of cable television subscribers,” Representative Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent, said in testimony when the bill was being debated in March. “For far too long, consumers have been forced to purchase cable TV packages which include dozens of channels the consumer has no interest in watching.”

But the current system involving service tiers and bundling “reflect[s] the exercise of First Amendment rights — both by the programmers who decide how to license their programming to cable operators, and by the cable operators who decide how to provide that programming to the public,” the industry lawsuit said. The lawsuit also says that “an array of federal statutory provisions precludes Maine from dictating how cable programming is presented to consumers.” The state law “is expressly preempted by several provisions of the Communications Act,” including a section that “prohibits state and local authorities from regulating the ‘provision or content of cable services, except as expressly provided in’ Title VI of the Communications Act,” the lawsuit said.

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