Cue the scary music. According to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, "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."
Martin's talking about the digital TV transition that will happen in February 2009. While the federal government has worked out a plan to help buy digital-to-analog converter boxes for Americans who rely on over-the-air broadcasts and still have analog TV sets, the rules for cable operators were not finalized until yesterday. The FCC voted 5-0 to require that cable operators must continue to make all local broadcasts available to their users, even those with analog televisions.
After broadcasters stop transmitting in analog, cable operators will have two signals to work with: digital standard definition (SD) and digital high definition (HD). Neither will work with analog TV sets, which the FCC estimates are still in use in 40 million American homes. After yesterday's ruling, cable operators will have two choices come February 2009. They can either convert the digital SD signal to analog SD and pipe it across their lines (which means using more bandwidth and carrying three versions of a single channel) or they can offer digital SD only and roll out converter boxes to all their subscribers (which could be expensive).
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association applauded the decision, thanking the FCC for "engaging so constructively and fairly with our industry." It did express worries about "the special circumstances of very small systems," which could face severe cost pressures by complying. The FCC will allow small operators (with a capacity of 552MHz or less) to request a waiver from the must-carry rules.
Thanks to the various FCC actions, analog TV owners are guaranteed a few more years of life out their TVs, though the new cable rules only last until 2012. At that point, the FCC will review them again and decide if they need to be renewed.
FCC to cable: You must support analog TVs until 2012
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