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12/19/2008
02:35 PM
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Cable Industry Keeping Quiet Before Digital TV Switch

The group's trade association said it will cease moving analog channels to digital channels for the next three months and let consumers concentrate on the Feb. 17 deadline.

Hoping to avoid confusion and criticism during the U.S. switch to digital television next year, the cable industry this week announced efforts to keep out of consumers' and the Federal Communications Commission's hair.

The group's official trade association on Thursday told Congress that its members will cease moving analog channels to digital channels during a "quiet period" between Dec. 31 and March 1 to help allay consumer confusion in the coming switchover to digital TV that's scheduled to take place next year. The switchover, mandated by the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 and moderated by the FCC, requires full-power TV stations to switch to digital broadcasts on Feb. 17.

"Most channel migration from analog to digital broadcast basic or expanded basic" will stop during that period, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in a letter to House and Senate leaders overseeing the move. The NCTA move will help consumers concentrate on preparing for the switch.

While the two events -- the switchover and cable companies' quiet period -- aren't related to each other, the nonaction by the cable companies will remove some of the confusion of the switchover, which is already causing confusion among consumers. Consumer groups, which have long complained about high cable prices, have also been complaining that cable companies were taking advantage of the confusion to jack up prices.

"We recognize that the overlap between cable's digital migration and the broadcasters' DTV transition scheduled to occur on February 17, 2009, inescapably adds a layer of complexity and the potential for consumer confusion," wrote Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the NCTA, in the letter to congressional leaders this week.

"And," McSlarrow continued, "on the assumption that not all issues with the DTV transition will be resolved as of February 17, 2009, for at least three months thereafter we will, upon request, offer free equipment to analog able households for at least a year, and will ensure that such households can receive channels moved from analog to digital broadcast basic or expanded basic tiers without incurring additional service charges."

To help consumers with the transition, the government is issuing coupons, which have a value of $40 toward the purchase of a converter box. The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration this week urged consumers who rely on antenna-delivered analog broadcast TV to immediately apply for converter box coupons or risk the possibility of losing TV signals when television stations switch to digital transmission.

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