FCC Takes Action To Prevent Cable Companies From Dropping Digital Broadcast Networks From Analog Cable

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.

FCC Adopts Rules to Ensure all Cable Customers Receive Local TV Stations After the Digital Television Transition (PDF)
(Photo:marike79)

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  1. blue_duck says:

    I have to say how much I love the picture of the cat :)

  2. stubblyhead says:

    that cat has the same remote that I have.

  3. blue_duck says:

    @stubblyhead: Mine is very similar.

  4. ShadowFalls says:

    awww look at kitty… I have the same remote too :)

  5. OKH says:

    TWC on Staten Island recently made all their customers switch to digital to the point they simply shut off the analog signal. Is thi what the FCC is talking about because TWC has an entire borough to do some splainin to

  6. dreamsneverend says:

    Not sure where I stand on this situation. Tough play between progress giving the bandwith for more channels and highspeed internet.. and the fixed income/older customers who can’t or don’t want to mess with a converter in additon to their tv.

  7. blue_duck says:

    We actually have a digital box in the living room, but in our bedrooms we have analog. I’m not about to pay for digital all around~ it costs an arm and a leg as it is.

  8. axiomatic says:

    Sigh…. dump analog already! I’ve never understood the reasoning. These analog stalwarts have not fed any $$$ in to consumer electronics in EON’s and the FCC caters to them before those of us who have spent thousands of dollars on HDTV’s? It makes no sense!

  9. forever_knight says:

    boo kitty! boo!

    p.s. maybe its the angle, but it looks like kitty needs to hit the gym.

  10. skrom says:

    I really wish people would stop being cheap asses and just buy a HDTV. Get rid of your stupid 27 inch CRT TVs and get with the times. Im sick of having entertainment held in the stone ages just because some people are too cheap to upgrade. If everyone had a digital TV, there would be many more frequency spectrums opened up for new technology, as well as all stations would be broadcast in HDTV. It sucks having to switch from a HD football game to a non HD one. Its like watching a game live in person and then going to another game and watching it with a shirt over your face.

  11. skrom says:

    @blue_duck:

    You can buy a 24″ digital TV for your bedroom for about $400 which is not an arm and a leg, stop being cheap

  12. joshhope says:

    i think it is unfair to call for others yo “stop being cheap and upgrade.” Some people simply cannot afford to buy a new TV or would rather not make unecessary purchases simply because the technology is available.

  13. blue_duck says:

    @skrom: I’ve paid enough for what I have now, thank you. If you would like to purchase this $400 television for me, you are more than welcome.

  14. Asvetic says:

    I think HDTV scares people. From the multitude of HDTVs to choice from (LCD, Plasma, DLP…) to upgrading your cable (Some people have been paying the same price for cable for decades, changing it now will cause cataclysmic repercussions…) to making sure your other components support HD or upgraded to HD-DVD, Blu-Ray or any sort of upscaling video player, not to mention all the Standard Def TIVOs people own.

    The FCC just seems to be creating a period of adaption for the majority of people that need it. I’ll be set in 2009 when the channels are changed over to digital. But, it’s nice to know that my folks with their 10 year old TVs, will have a few more years to upgrade. Plus, with all the new HD channels, it’ll be easier to sell people on the idea of upgrading, instead of forcing them into it.

  15. vladthepaler says:

    So, if the cable company doesn’t switch to all digital, they have to keep analog cable available, and if they do switch to all digital, their analog customers are screwed. Do we really need a law to spell out this out?

  16. dotyoureyes says:

    @OKH:
    There’s a big *OR* Consumerist didn’t mention here.

    Cable companies must down-convert digital signals to analog *OR* provide all customers with a converter box. That’s what TWC is doing, and I suspect it’s what lots more cable companies will do going forward.

    Since one analog channel can carry something like 4-6 (if memory serves) HD channels (depending on compression), the cable companies really have no choice but to start dumping analog channels if they want to compete with DirecTV’s massive HD capacity.

    The alternative is moving to a switched digital system. The question for the cable companies now becomes which is less expensive — providing converter boxes, or building out switched digital?

  17. blue_duck says:

    On a different note, I am beyond tired of some people thinking that since they have the money to just go out and buy items such as a tv that everybody does.

  18. mbz32190 says:

    Oh please to all the people with the “get with the times” comments. Not everyone has a need for a 52 inch plasma, or the ability to afford one…even $400 for a TV is quite an expense for someone on a fixed income. Many people watch very little TV, so why should they have to pay for new technology? Frankly, I could care less about digital TV. I have a 21 year old Panasonic CRT tube in the bedroom with colors that rival any TV you can pick up at your local electronics megastore, and I don’t watch nearly enough TV to justify the expense.

  19. K-Bo says:

    @blue_duck: On a different note, I am beyond tired of some people thinking that since they have the money to just go out and buy items such as a tv that everybody does.

    Exactly. Or even if I have the money, who are they to tell me that’s what I should spend it on? Saying we should all have these nice tvs so we don’t hold them back is only very slightly less annoying than them demanding I send them checks in the mail to buy their fancy stuff.

    As a side note: I do have an HDTV, bought it a few months ago and love it. But no one tells me how to spend my money, so I’m not going to tell someone else they have to get one. Not to mention, $400 is a ton of money to a poor college student or a struggling family, even if it isn’t to you, so it’s gonna be a long time before everyone has HDTV’s get used to it.

  20. blue_duck says:

    @K-Bo: Thank you! *bows*

  21. beyond says:

    Anyone who spends $2000 on TV is crazy. Go outside already. I have a 27 inch CRT that WORKS FINE and I am not going to throw it away and spend more money on another TV just to GET THE SAME RESULT…ie, television.

    HDTV may be a crisper/sharper/clearer but guess what, the junk content they air is all the same. Yes, I’ve seen the HDTVs and while they are nice, they in no way justify the costs required to upgrade.

    I’ll probably just cancel my service if they try to sell or rent me a converter box. Netflix+DVD player+analog TV gives me more than enough entertainment.

  22. Asvetic says:

    I wonder if there are going to be any recycling programs developed to take in old, useless analog TVs?

  23. Canadian Impostor says:

    “Converter boxes” should cost around $10 bought in wholesale, less if cable companies ordered the millions they’d need.

    They should just charge all their analog customers a one time fee for the boxes and move on with the digital transition.

  24. acambras says:

    @skrom:

    Well, I was pretty happy with my 19″ CRT TV, but now that I know that it’s screwing up poor Skrom’s life, I guess I need to put “buy a new tv and make Skrom happy” on my to-do list for the weekend.

  25. dreamsneverend says:

    Wasn’t the fed supposed to subsidize the OTA DAC boxes for analog TVs when the broadcasts subside? Not sure why BASIC cable wouldn’t be able to use those instead of their own boxes.

  26. SaraAB87 says:

    Not everyone can afford a brand new HDTV. Those that want to keep their CRT’s for various reasons should be able to do so. Forcing everyone to go out and buy an HDTV just to recieve the latest signal changes would just mean that best buy and other stores that like to scam people into buying warranties and overpriced accessories will get more business. This is just a push to get people spending at the stores more.

    I have a 20 inch Panasonic CRT that I am PERFECTLY SATISFIED with, and in fact I think its very nice. I paid 140$ for the television and it will give me years of enjoyment without problems. I had a 13 inch Samsung TV which sufficed just fine but did not have any AV ports which didn’t allow game consoles to be hooked up. I gave this 13 inch TV to a friend who did not even have a television. I can hook up all my game consoles to this TV. I see no need to buy a new television as this one does the same as every other television, it displays images, I can see the images perfectly so it does its job just fine. I currently don’t even know anyone who owns a HDTV who is middle class and generally considered to be living an average lifestyle, everyone in my family has CRT’s because they still work, so the full upgrade from CRT to HDTV is a long way off still.

    Some of us like to spend our money on other things rather than a crazy, oversized, TV that we don’t really need. I can totally understand buying a new television if your old television is losing its picture or breaks, but no one should be forced to go out and spend 400$ or more on a TV because they are told their old TV will not work anymore as cable companies are telling you to go out and spend more money or else you cannot use our service.

    The last time I checked into this matter there is a website you can register with in order to get up to 4 converters per household FREE. They send you coupons which you can redeem at stores for free converters.

  27. Lordstrom says:

    I agree with Skrom. Frankly, you can buy an HDTV for $100 if you shop around. If you can’t afford that, you shouldn’t have cable. But people are really lazy and expect the government to handle everything.

    Furthermore, it *is* appropriate for cable companies to choose what their subscribers watch. It’s a private business in a free society. If you don’t like the selection, look elsewhere. The FCC is way out of bounds as usual.

  28. blue_duck says:

    Food? Other bills? Who cares?! I need to go get myself a new tv!

  29. JMH says:

    Really? Where can you buy an HDTV for $100?

    (I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I’d genuinely like to know.)

  30. psm321 says:

    To all those suggesting a switch to digital: there’s 2 main problems I have:

    1.) The cost for each digital box (most TV’s can tune analog without a box)

    2.) That, combined with the fact that it’s much harder to get video onto a computer from a box, makes having a custom PVR (not all of us like pre-boxed Tivos) difficult and/or expensive.

    That’s why I haven’t considered satellites yet. The day the local cable company switches off the analog signal (which I hope is not for a long long time) is the day I seriously consider a switch to dish if I’m going to have to deal with digital anyway.

    Oh, and digital boxes are slow too (I had digital w/ analog last year)… I shouldn’t have to wait 2-5 seconds to switch channels (doesn’t sound like much but it’s bad when you’re trying to browse through channels).

  31. blue_duck says:

    @psm321: I have that same problem on my digital box. God forbid I push buttons too fast!

  32. GearheadGeek says:

    What interests me and no one seems to have mentioned is the double standard. I understand the necessity to force cable companies to provide local broadcasters “in the clear” in the same format the local broadcasters are using. I don’t think it’s appropriate that the cable companies have to keep providing the analog signal AFTER the broadcasters have ceased to do so. Ostensibly, the whole point of forcing a cutover date was to give both consumers and content providers a target date for upgrades to be complete or certain equipment to be retired. While I’m not a fan of cable companies, I see no reason they should be forced to continue to provide what broadcasters are forced to STOP providing. Government of the morons by the idiots, it’s classic.

  33. K-Bo says:

    @lorddave: Why would I choose to pay for cable over a new tv? because I’d rather have an old tv with more choices than a new tv that gets 3 channels really pretty. Only reason I have an HDTV is because I gave my brother my old one, and as someone who moves a lot wanted something lighter and easier to move. I have no problem with CRTs, and still have one in my bedroom that I don’t plan on replacing anytime in the next 10 years.

  34. theblackdog says:

    Sure I’ll get rid of my not even a year old 27″ analog TV…when Skrom forks over $200 to pay for the TV and the extended warranty I put on it. I dropped cable anyway because I decided I couldn’t afford it.

  35. I_can_still_pitch says:

    @lorddave: Are you high? A private business in a free society? Cable companies are by and large tax payer subsidized monopolies. Good lord, the amount of crap I read on the web that is stated as fact never ceases to amaze me.

  36. GearheadGeek says:

    @psm321: re: custom PVRs: While it seems CableLabs went out of their way to make it clunkier than it needed to be, CableCARD is a good solution to getting digital cable into your PVR. there are tuner cards that take CableCARD.

  37. forever_knight says:

    good luck to you and your HDTV. i will continue enjoying life not stuck in my living room.

  38. Canadian Impostor says:

    @GearheadGeek: They’re not sold to the general public, actually.

  39. GearheadGeek says:

    @Canadian Impostor: Hmm… so it would seem. I remembered reading the announcements of (among other products) ATI’s cableCARD computer tuner. Without a strong interest for myself I wasn’t following it closely (I’m happy enough with the Scientific Atlanta DVR from the cable companies, though the UI is lacking compared to others I like the fact that it’s someone else’s hard drive spinning towards death.) I didn’t realize that they pulled the product early on, and as far as I can tell haven’t put it back on the market.

  40. BrockBrockman says:

    God Bless the FCC! Long live the FCC!

    Just kidding. Sort of.

    I love my HDTV (and free non-cable over-the-air HD network broadcasting), but if your CRT can only retrieve analog cable, then you shouldn’t be penalized for it by the bunch of rip-off artists collectively known as “cable companies.”

    It’s not like it’s hard to turn a digital signal into an analog one. Bunch of bums.

  41. Lordstrom says:

    @JMH: Got mine at Fry’s. It’s not a big one, 15″, but the price was definitely right.

  42. Rusted says:

    @forever_knight: Yep, definitely a fat cat. Mine’s wider I think.

    @skrom: Why? The only reason the analog spectrum is going away is so that private interests can make money off of something that used to belong to the public. HD Tuners will be out there cheap, but still…. gotta pay money. I’m not going to pay a cent to watch advertising.

  43. edrebber says:

    The government is going to resell the analog bandwidth to cell phone providers for billions of dollars. Everyone is due a free converter if they want one.

  44. pura9910 says:

    I am happy with the analog cable service I get now. They should let the people who want digital cable (and can afford it) to get it but should also let people keep their analog cable service. If they are running out of bandwidth that badly they should split the different types of cable into two. send two separate cables around, one carrying digital and one carrying analog. even though it would be rather expensive. they shouldn’t make the people that don’t want what everybody else wants switch because a majority of the nation has digital.