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Comcast 'Cavalry' Rides Into NoCal

Jeff Baumgartner
2/9/2009

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) confirmed it's in the middle of an "upgrade" in the Bay Area that will move more than 40 analog channels to the digital domain, freeing up capacity for more high-definition fare and Docsis 3.0-fueled services.

Comcast, according to The Mercury News, expects to start making the digital shift in early March in Pleasanton and Santa Clara, Calif., and quickly follow in San Mateo, San Carlos, San Rafael, and other nearby cities. The paper said the MSO expects to complete the Bay Area upgrade by year's end; a Comcast spokeswoman contacted by Cable Digital News would confirm only that a handful of communities are already "on the clock" to get the upgrade.

The Bay Area becomes the third market to get the "all-digital" treatment (OK, mostly digital) using digital terminal adapters (DTAs) as a primary vehicle. The others are Portland and Salem, Ore., launched in November; and Seattle and other parts of Washington, launched in December.

Comcast has already completed "Project Cavalry" (its internal name for analog reclamation) in Salem, and last week added another 29 HD channels to the lineup in that system.

Comcast has previously gone all-digital in Chicagoland and the Detroit region, but got those projects off the ground without the help of DTAs. (See Comcast Doctoring Digital in Detroit and Going 'Mostly' Digital .)

Assuming Comcast operates as it did in the other markets, Bay Area customers with expanded basic cable subscriptions will get one low-end set-top box and two DTAs for no added cost as long as they remain Comcast customers. Each additional DTA would cost $1.99 per month. (See Comcast Seeds Digital Shift With Free Boxes.)

Comcast is moving several channels to digital broadcast but will retain about 30 channels, including local broadcast-network feeds, in analog.

Comcast has said it expects it will need as many as 25 million DTAs to complete its analog reclamation project.

Once the MSO reclaims about 40 analog channels in the Bay Area, it's expected to use the freed space for HD channels and video-on-demand expansion. (See Comcast Launches 'Project Infinity'.)

The space could also be used for Docsis 3.0, the CableLabs platform that uses channel-bonding techniques to produce shared speeds above 100 Mbit/s. Comcast, which has been limiting downstream speeds of its wideband tiers to 50 Mbit/s, has about 35 percent of its network ready for for Docsis 3.0. As reported last week, San Francisco and Denver are among the markets next in line to get the service. (See Comcast Widens Wideband Footprint and Comcast Wraps Up '08 Wideband Rollout .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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