In 2009, broadcast channels are going to switch over to digital, freeing up a large swath of bandwidth that will be sold to the highest bidder. At that point, says the FCC, cable companies were going to drop broadcast networks from analog cable.
That’s not cool with the FCC. They’ve recently ruled that cable companies must continue to provide access to broadcast networks on analog cable until 2012. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says:
This item, at its core, is about the consumer. It is about ensuring that all Americans with cable – regardless of whether they are analog or digital subscribers – are able to watch the same broadcast stations the day after the digital transition that they were watching the day before the transition. If the cable companies had their way, you, your mother and father, or your next door neighbor could go to sleep one night after watching their favorite channel and wake up the next morning to a dark fuzzy screen. This is because the cable operators believe that it is appropriate for them to choose which stations analog cable customers should be able watch. It is not acceptable as a policy matter or as a legal matter. The 1992 Cable Act is very clear. Cable operators must ensure that all local broadcast stations carried pursuant to this Act are “viewable” by all cable subscribers. Thus, they may not simply cut off the signals of these must-carry broadcast stations after the digital transition. The Order we adopt today prevents the cable operators from doing just that.
So, until 2012, if your cable system offers analog cable, broadcast channels will remain available. The exceptions to the rule are tiny cable companies that don’t have the ability to convert the new digital broadcasts. Also, cable companies can still convert to all digital cable, as Comcast has done in Chicago, in which case you’ll obviously need to convert.