We’ve written about the so-called “Digital Migration” on quite a few occasions (Check this post for links). Again, for the short version, there are two transition taking place right now – the digital TV transition for full-power, over-the-air television stations, and the cable industry’s efforts to transition analog channels onto digital cable tiers, in order to reclaim bandwidth and serve consumers with more and better services.
Since the word “digital” is in both of these transitions, even though digital TV and digital cable are two different technologies, some confusion has occurred. For example, earlier this week, Thomas Kraemer wrote on his blog:
I was surprised to see Comcast doing a mandatory switch to digital cable at the same time over-the-air TV is switching to digital. I thought they would phase it a year later as a way to keep cable customers. At first I thought they might be trying to exploit the confusion over the digital TV transition to free up some bandwidth by eliminating analog TV channels that they could replace with more profitable bits.
See also Brier Dudley at the Seattle Times writing on his blog.
In fact, cable’s transition has been happening for some time and will continue after February. Some consumers have mistakenly assumed that cable’s assurances that its customers need probably do nothing during the DTV Transition were incorrect.
Good news today for all those folks. NCTA has sent letters up to Congress today to announce some moves that should help clear up the confusion. First, here’s a relevant quote from our letter:
… we recognize that the overlap between cable’s digital migration and the broadcasters’ DTV transition scheduled to occur on February 17, 2009, inescapably adds a layer of complexity and the potential for consumer confusion. We are determined to address those issues.
The cable industry has gone to extraordinary lengths to help make the broadcasters’ DTV transition as seamless as possible for consumers. Our industry was the first industry to run a national education campaign on the DTV transition and has already aired over $225 million in public service announcements entirely devoted to educating consumers about the broadcasters’ transition and the availability of converter boxes and government-supplied coupons. Alone among multichannel video programming distributors, cable operators will also ensure that all commercial must carry broadcast signals are formatted for both digital and analog customers in accordance with rules set by the FCC (rules that were, in fact, based on a voluntary plan first proposed by the cable industry).
Even with those efforts, the cable industry has been asked to consider taking additional steps to help smooth the DTV transition. In response to these requests, cable operators represented on the NCTA Board of Directors (who own and operate cable systems serving ninety percent of the nation’s cable subscribers) have committed to the following:
- Digital Migration “Quiet Period.” To minimize consumer confusion during the DTV transition, operators will delay the substitution of digital versions of existing analog channels from December 31, 2008, to March 1, 2009, except to the extent necessary to free up bandwidth to comply with the requirement to carry broadcast signals in both analog and digital formats or meet contractual carriage obligations.
- Analog Broadcast Basic Tier. Operators that offer dual carriage of broadcast signals would make access to the analog broadcast basic tier available under a promotional offer to new customers who subscribe just to that tier. This offer would be available beginning December 31, 2008, and would continue for at least 120 days after the proposed quiet period – through June 30, 2009. The service would be provided at the promotional price for at least one year after the customer subscribes.
- No Additional Charge for Equipment or Service. Recognizing that there is likely to be continuing consumer confusion even after the February 17, 2009 broadcaster DTV transition, operators would also provide the following additional assistance to all-analog cable households during and for at least 120 days after the proposed quiet period – through June 30, 2009 – to help them manage cable’s digital transition. If, during this period, an operator removes the analog version of a PEG or other channel from the broadcast basic or expanded basic tier and replaces it with a digital version of the channel on either of those tiers, the operator would make available to all-analog households, upon request, at least one free device that enables those households to view the channel. The device provided under this program would remain free for at least one year. There would also be no additional service charge for at least one year for the affected channel or, at the operator’s option, the broadcast basic or expanded basic tier where the digital version of the channel has been placed. Individual operators may choose to continue this program after June 30, 2009, or to initiate other similar programs after that date.
- Clear and Conspicuous Customer Notification of Any Channel Migration. Whenever operators cease transmitting analog PEG or cable programming services and begin offering those channels only in digital, they will provide clear and conspicuous notice to affected subscribers and franchising authorities not less than 30 days in advance. The notice would also inform subscribers that they have at least 60 days to avail themselves of the offers described above.
I hope this will help consumers during an admittedly confusing period.