Video services

Cable's All-Upset Over All-Digital

Cable pressure groups, including the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and American Cable Association (ACA) , are hard at work grousing about a digital TV must-carry proposal from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that falls in front of the Feb. 2009 analog-to-digital cutover by broadcast television stations.

To help make the change to all-digital signals smooth, the FCC proposed that cable operators either:

  • Carry the signals of all must-carry stations in analog format to all analog cable subs (also known as "dual must-carry"); or
  • Carry all signals only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the right set-top boxes.

The FCC has provided some relief to operators that already are all-digital or pledge to be by Feb. 17, 2009. For instance, the agency granted a temporary "omnibus" waiver to several service operators, including Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), so long as those operators agreed to go all-digital by the 2009 cutover. (See Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers and Waiver Central .)

In comments filed this week, NCTA argued that going all digital is a non-starter for most cable operators because it is very expensive.

"The second option is effectively no option at all," the NCTA said. "To exercise it would mean forcing cable customers to attach (and pay for) a set-top box to every one of the estimated 126 million analog television sets that are projected to still be in use in cable homes as of February 2009."

While a $1.5 billion subsidy program from the government will help to place converter boxes in about 15 million homes that receive programming over-the-air, the bottom line for the cable industry in this scenario would reach a cost of $6.3 billion, according to an NCTA estimate.

BroadLogic Network Technologies Inc. , it should be noted, is working on a device that would convert digital signals to analog as they enter the consumer's home, eliminating the requirement for a digital box on every cable outlet. Time Warner Investments, Comcast Interactive Capital , and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) are among BroadLogic's financial backers. (See BroadLogic Collects More Cable Cred.)

Both cable pressure groups also claim that the FCC's dual must-carry proposal is unconstitutional.

The ACA chipped in with a proposal of its own. It suggested the FCC "allow cable operators to convert digital broadcast signals into a format that they have the ability to cablecast to all their subscribers and to choose whether to provide dual carriage or digital must-carry signals."

The ACA, which represents 1,100 small and mid-sized cable ops serving a total of 8 million subs, estimated that 46 percent of its members already deliver digital video signals to some or all of their subs, and 75 percent plan to do so by the February 2009 transition.

"Even if the Commission had the authority to implement its DTV Must-Carry Proposal, the cost of implementation would be financially impossible for many independent cable operators," the ACA says.

Adding HD to the mix would only makes things worse. Cable MSOs that serve 1,000 subs or fewer can expect to pay in the range of $25,000 to $50,000 on upgrades required for providing HD signals, the pressure groups said. Such costs "could put many of them out of businesses," the ACA said, noting that nearly a third of members in a recent survey said they won't be offering HD signals over their cable systems by Feb. 17, 2009.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:05:10 PM
re: Cable's All-Upset Over All-Digital As an Analog customer with several TVs I ask how the FCC can regulate a personal contract between my MSO and me to deliver the service. I can understand regulation when it for a shared public resource to maximize its use, but regulating my contract to switch to the more expensive (~20%) product plus converter upgrades on my single use cable is beyond comprehension. Elitist at best.


The last time I heard of this on a CSPAN (thank you Cable) discussion, Cable was going to be able to deliver the 'must carries' in what-ever mode they wished. So what changed? Broadcasters and VZ feel disadvantaged?
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:05:09 PM
re: Cable's All-Upset Over All-Digital OldPOTs,

It's my understanding that the FCC banned reception of microwave by the cable cos in the 60s. They kept this ban in place for a decade. The net result was to protect the broadcast networks from competition and protect the FCC's licensing authority.

The FCC exists for no good reason but continues to go on and on, taking as much money as they can and however they can, while claiming to serve the public interest. They've become little more than a modern day Court of Chancery.


The High Court of Chancery was the court that developed from the Lord Chancellor's jurisdiction. Unlike the courts of law, which were rigidly based on formal causes of action, the Lord Chancellor had jurisdiction to determine cases, on behalf of the King, according to equity or fairness rather than according to the strict letter of the law. Gradually the rules of equity became formalized, but they preserved important innovations, such as injunctions and trusts. See equity (law). Records of the court are kept by The National Archives.

It is a frequent misconception, however, that the Court of Chancery's primary principle of decision in the fifteenth and early-sixteenth century was Equity. The year-book reports reveal that the court was primarily a court of Conscience in its early days. ConscienceGă÷a term of artGă÷connoted the moral law applied to prevent peril to the soul of the wrongdoer through mortal sin. The crucial twist to a modern mind is that the remedy was given to the plaintiff not to return him to his rightful position but to look after the wrongdoer's soul. The benefit to the plaintiff was only incidental. This is also the explanation for specific performance, which compels the sinner to put matters right, if he is to save his soul. The concept of EquityGă÷which generally softens the harsh effects of written lawsGă÷did not take on a primary role until later in the Court's history.
OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:02:54 PM
re: Cable's All-Upset Over All-Digital 9/11/07
The FCC approved rules 9/11/07 that will ensure that 40 million cable subscribers will still be able to watch analog broadcast programming after the digital television transition in 2009.

It will enable cable customers be able to receive analog broadcast channels until February 2012.

I guess I can wait until my TVs break or until 2012.

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