Readers had a lot of great questions after Monday's column about Comcast switching its service in Washington state to digital, a move that's going to require nearly every customer to add boxes to every one of their TVs.
Excerpts from the blog
Readers had a lot of great questions after Monday’s column about Comcast switching its service in Washington state to digital, a move that’s going to require nearly every customer to add boxes to every one of their TVs.
Here are some questions and answers.
Q: What, again, is happening?
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A: Comcast is switching channels higher than 29 to digital format and requiring all televisions to have some sort of cable box to receive those channels. For “expanded basic” customers who don’t have cable boxes, the company will provide a free box. It also will provide two free adapters that expanded and digital customers can use on additional TVs that don’t have a box. Limited basic customers — who only receive channels 2 to 29 — won’t be affected.
Q: Why is Comcast doing this?
A: That’s the billion-dollar question. Comcast says it’s switching channels higher than 29 to digital format to free up spectrum for additional high-definition channels and faster Internet service. The company also is steadily phasing out the “expanded basic” tier of service, nudging customers toward digital packages. By putting more cable boxes into homes, the company also is extending the reach of its pay-per-view service and program guide.
Q: What if I’m using a CableCard device on my TV, computer or TiVo?
A: You won’t need an additional box if your set has CableCard, which is the equivalent of a very small cable box. (I’m waiting for Comcast to clarify how the converters will affect setups with the cable going directly into a TiVo or PC.)
Q: What else is changing?
A: As part of the switch, Comcast will give “expanded basic” customers music services and additional channels: Sprout, Discovery Kids, Bloomberg Television, G4, C-SPAN 2 and C-SPAN3, Science Channel, WEtv, KCTS Creates, Q13 Fox First Forecast, Retro-Televison, V-Me and Lifetime Movie Network.
Q: Is this different from the digital converter boxes that the government is promoting and subsidizing with $40 coupons?
A: Yes. Those digital boxes will enable older “rabbit ear” analog TVs to continue receiving over-the-air broadcast signals after broadcasters go all digital Feb. 17. If you’re a Comcast customer, you’ll still need one of its devices to get cable channels higher than 29.
Q: I thought newer TVs with digital tuners wouldn’t need any sort of converter box.
A: That was the general message, until Comcast started making this switch. Now it’s a two-part message: Newer TVs with digital tuners won’t need any sort of converter to receive over-the-air broadcast signals. However, they will require a Comcast device to receive channels higher than 29 from the cable company.
Q: How much will the Comcast converters cost?
A: Comcast will provide two per household free. Additional units will cost $1.99 a month. Expanded basic customers who don’t have a standard cable box also will receive one of those for free.
Q: I’m a DirectTV customer. How am I affected?
A: You’re not. This change only applies to Comcast customers.
Q: Regarding the Feb. 17 transition to digital over-the-air broadcasting, hasn’t that happened?
A: Yes, partially. Many stations started broadcasting digital signals over the air earlier than required. They’re broadcasting digital and analog signals. Analog broadcasts will end Feb. 17.
Q: Where can I get more information about this?
A: Comcast is advising customers with questions to call 1-888-COMCAST (266-2278). More information about the separate, federal Feb. 17 switch to digital over-the-air broadcasting is available at www.dtv2009.gov.
This material has been edited for print publication.
Brier Dudley’s blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.