Cable companies promise

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Posted by on December 20, 2008 at 12:28:14:

Cable companies promise moratorium on digital channel switches

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Cable TV companies this week promised to voluntarily stop moving analog channels to more expensive digital tiers of service during the first two months of 2009 to avoid confusing customers as the nation's broadcast TV stations switch to digital from analog in February.

In letters to Congress this week, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said cable TV companies don't want to add a "layer of complexity" as broadcast stations go digital at midnight on Feb. 17.

Cable companies have been facing Federal Communications Commission scrutiny over their practice of switching analog channels to digital - leaving analog consumers with fewer channels to watch unless they use adapters, rent a digital set-top box or upgrade to digital. Cable operators say they are trying to accommodate customers by offering promotions such as free adapters.

The moves of analog channels to digital frees up bandwidth that cable companies can use to add high-definition content and other services.

Such moves are not related to the national switch to digital broadcasting, but regulators are investigating whether providers are misleading customers into thinking the two events are linked, which could prompt more people to opt for digital video services.

Once cable operators resume moving analog channels to digital, the companies said that until June 30 they will give analog households at least one piece of equipment free for one year to let them continue watching in analog. Certain fees also will be waived temporarily. The industry promised to notify customers and franchising officials at least 30 days in advance of the switch.

Consumers Union, which had criticized cable's channel-switching tactics, hailed the move as a "welcome first step to help consumers navigate a costly maze of confusion surrounding the (digital TV) transition."

Some cable companies had planned to end all analog service and go completely digital, but Madison area provider Charter Communications told The Capital Times in July that it had no such plans.

Charter said its customers who have a cable line hooked directly into an analog TV won't need to do anything when the nation's TV stations switch to all-digital broadcasting next February.

"Our message is consistent and quite simple," Charter spokesman John Miller said in an e-mail statement in July that he reiterated this week. "Any TV, whether analog or digital, will operate when connected to Charter's service, without the need for a converter box. Charter will be 'downconverting' the new digital broadcast signals back to analog so analog TVs can view them without the use of any converter box or digital receiver."

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