Facts for cable customers


[IMPORTANT UPDATE: An FCC rule, adopted September 11, 2007, will allow continued access to local stations for cable customers—including those with standard analog cable service—following the transition to digital TV in 2009. For details, see FCC eases DTV transition for cable subscribers.]

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The bottom line:

If you have digital cable service, you can probably relax. You are well-positioned to make the transition to digital television broadcasts when analog transmissions end in 2009, even without replacing your existing TV or adding additional equipment. If you want to take full advantage of high-definition channels, though, you’ll need an HDTV.

If your cable service is not digital, you stand a chance of losing access to some of the local channels you have today, though major stations will probably enjoy continued carriage. Don’t be surprised if your cable company continues to nudge you in the direction of digital service

As things stand now, cable viewers are not likely to get many of the new multicast channels. (That is, unless you want to go back to the days of monkeying with an antenna. If you have an analog TV, or a digital TV that lacks a digital tuner, you’ll need to buy a set-top converter box or receiver to go that route, and possibly a rooftop antenna.)

Will the digital TV law be revised?

Finally, one disclaimer. As we move closer to the 2009 cutoff date for analog TV, industry groups may press Congress to enact further legislation dealing with the issues of downconversion and multicasting. As voters increasingly become aware of the transition to digital TV, they, too, may call on lawmakers to revise their plans.

What’s to stop government officials from ordering further delays in the switch to digital television? Red ink, for one thing. The federal government, having run up deficits as far as the eye can see, is eager to reap the proceeds of auctioning off parts of the public airwaves currently used by analog TV. Some will be allocated to public-safety uses (by police and fire departments, among others). But most will be auctioned off to wireless companies and other businesses—the broadcast TV spectrum is “beachfront property,” in the words of tech analysts, expected to fetch upwards of $10 billion. (The national debt, by the way, is heading toward $9 trillion.)

So, ready or not, we will be switching to digital TV. For continuing updates on how the transition affects cable customers, see Digital TV Facts: The Latest.

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