From The TV IV
Basic cable refers to American cable networks which are available only through cable subscriptions, but which air with outside commercials and some level of censorship. In this sense, they are distinct from premium channels — HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, et. al. — which cable subscribers specifically order and therefore accept more mature content and no commercials.
Although basic cable networks such as ABC Family, FX, Comedy Central, MTV, TNT, TBS, USA, Lifetime and Syfy are available only through subscribed-to cable and not public broadcasts—and therefore are not subject to Federal Communications Commission standards—basic cable networks often have Standards and Practices departments, although their standards may be more lenient than those of broadcast networks. This is because basic cable networks are still accountable to commercial sponsors and therefore cannot risk alienating sponsors by airing overly objectionable material. Also, under the programming packages system, cable companies put pressure on basic cable networks to restrict their programming to parallel broadcast standards. However, under the à la carte programming system proposed to the United States Congress, basic cable networks would no longer be held accountable to cable companies in this manner.