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Mon., June 3, 2013, 5:17 p.m.

Comcast sets date for the final switch, encrypting limited basic channels

Starting July 30, all Spokane cable TV subscribers getting Comcast’s limited basic channels will need free equipment to unscramble the signals.

Many of the roughly 8,000 Spokane subscribers getting the lower-priced channels already have digital-converter boxes that unscramble those signals, said Comcast Spokane General Manager Ken Watts. Many acquired the equipment earlier this year when Comcast switched those formerly analog channels to digital.

The switch on July 30 is to make all those remaining limited channels encrypted. The limited tier of channels include local broadcast stations, government channels, education channels, some Spanish programming and the Hallmark Channel.

Current cable TV subscribers can get two adapters free of charge for two years. After that, customers will be charged “market pricing” for the devices. Limited-basic subscribers who sign up after Aug. 1 may have to pay a monthly fee for the converter.

"May" is the appropriate word; Comcast officials have not set a clear plan for whether or not new subscribers after July 31 will face a monthly fee for the converter box.

A link for common questions and answers, provided by Comcast, can be found here.

Encryption also helps Comcast cut off cable pirates, customers who get cable channels without paying for them, Watts said. He had no idea how many people are in that category.

Cable subscribers with a recently made digital TV equipped with a QAM tuner will also need to switch to a descrambler box, said Watts. A QAM tuner, built into some TVs, allowed direct reception of cable channels without the use of a set-top box.

The QAM-tuner group subscribing to the limited set of channels is also small, Watts said.

Spokane is the first Comcast market in Washington state going through the final encryption process, said spokesman Walt Neary.

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The Spokesman-Review business team follows economic development in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.