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Some Comcast viewers will need new box

Tue., March 24, 2009

Expanded basic customers will receive first device free

Some cable TV customers in Spokane County need to prepare for the second wave of digital TV migration, tentatively starting in June, according to a Comcast Corp. spokesman.

Roughly 10,000 homes in the Spokane area get expanded basic channels with a cable directly connected from wall to TV set.

Those expanded basic channels, from 30 to 70, are sent downstream in both analog and digital form. In that expanded basic group of 40 channels are AMC, Animal Planet, Bravo, Cartoon, Disney, E!, Food, History, Lifetime, MSNBC, Sci-Fi, TLC, TNT and Travel.

Starting in June, the analog signals will be eliminated, said spokesman Walt Neary. The goal is to add far more programming, including services the cable companies have yet to identify, Neary said.

Subscribers who already have a DVR (digital video recorder) or set-top cable box will not need to add anything extra to continue getting expanded basic.

The 10,000 in the wall-to-set group need a converter box attached to their TVs to see those channels. The boxes for that purpose will be given out free. Neary said Comcast will explain in TV ads and mailers how customers can obtain those boxes.

That box has nothing to do with the over-the-air DTV conversion viewers already have faced in this area in February.

By converting the 30-through-70 channel conversion from analog to digital, Comcast gains extra bandwidth for additional channels. Neary said every converted analog channel makes room available for three high-definition (HD) channels or 10 standard definition channels.

Comcast hopes to complete the conversion by the end of the year.

That extra available bandwidth will be used for new high-definition versions of channels, Neary said. Those include Encore, Lifetime, Bravo, Disney, Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, Travel, ESPN News, E!, Spike, CNBC, Nickelodeon, IFC and others.

The only cost involved will be when subscribers need extra boxes to connect additional home TVs to the same new all-digital lineup of channels, Neary said.

To make a fourth or fifth extra TV set capable of receiving the digital channels will cost $1.99 per month per extra box.

Asked if there will be an eventual cost for customers associated with the boxes, Neary said Comcast sees its role as similar to the software company Adobe, which provides the document tool Acrobat Reader.

“I’d compare it to Adobe’s use of the PDF format, where they hand out their reader free of charge so that people want to buy their main product.”

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