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Theft of Service - TvTechnology

Theft of Service

Most Americans watch most television via cable or satellite. The FCC, therefore, plans to count cable subscribers (and satellite subscribers with local-channel subscriptions) towards a congressionally mandated condition allowing the shutdown of analog television broadcasting in any market where over 85% of households are able to receive digital programming from each broadcaster in that market. Cable-television amplifiers are being stolen, however, in southern Florida.
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Most Americans watch most television via cable or satellite. The FCC, therefore, plans to count cable subscribers (and satellite subscribers with local-channel subscriptions) towards a congressionally mandated condition allowing the shutdown of analog television broadcasting in any market where over 85% of households are able to receive digital programming from each broadcaster in that market. Cable-television amplifiers are being stolen, however, in southern Florida.

Over the course of a few weeks, Comcast lost 75 of them in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. Adelphia lost another 20 in Miami-Dade County. The amplifiers aren’t being stolen from trucks or warehouses. They’re being stolen from the cable systems in which they’re operating, and each theft causes loss of cable service to hundreds of homes.

Satellite service is also susceptible to problems. In 1986, a self-styled Captain Midnight captured HBO’s satellite feed and replaced it with a complaint about their decision to scramble.

After the 9/11 attacks, most New York-market TV broadcasters (who’d had their transmitters on the World Trade Center) went off the air, but their cable-television and satellite feeds continued. WCBS-TV stayed on the air because it retained a transmitter in the Empire State Building (the same thing occurred during the first World Trade Center attack in 1993).

WCBS-TV got a huge ratings boost. It lasted until the other broadcasters got back on the air. It’s unlikely that WCBS-TV got the boost from their programming. They were hardly alone in their non-stop news coverage of the disaster.

There seems only one rational explanation. A lot of people in the New York market still relied on--or preferred--off-air TV reception as recently as the end of 2001.

During a retransmission-consent dispute between New York’s largest cable system, Time Warner Cable of New York City, and another station, WABC-TV, the cable system dropped the broadcaster. Viewers dusted off their rabbit ears and continued to watch WABC-TV’s broadcasts.

There are many things that can knock out cable and satellite service besides a contract dispute, theft of amplifiers, and transponder piracy. Overhead cables are subject to hurricane damage; buried ones can suffer what is euphemistically called “backhoe fade.” Heavy rainfall often knocks out satellite signals. In other words, during a natural disaster, when viewers could most want to rely on cable and satellite, neither might be available. But broadcast television is.

Fortunately, digital terrestrial television (DTT) transmission operates in much the same way as analog over-the-air television. Broadcasters transmit DTT from protected transmitters through tall towers.
DTT reception, however, is different from that of analog TV. It’s difficult to receive analog TV broadcasts with high quality. That’s why cable television got started in the first place. But analog TV usually offers some pictures and sound under even difficult reception conditions.

DTT offers high-quality pictures and sound over a broad range of reception conditions. But it never offers low-quality. The pictures and sound are either there or not. “Not” is often caused by reception conditions in urban areas.

LG, the Korean parent of Zenith, has demonstrated “5th-generation” DTT receiver circuitry that works in urban areas where other receivers don’t. It was to have been made available in a set-top receiver/decoder that could have been used by the millions of Americans who have already bought HDTV displays and the hundreds of millions with ordinary TVs and VCRs. LG now plans not to make the 5th-generation circuitry available in a set-top adapter, only in integrated DTV sets.

Perhaps in considering counting cable and satellite subscribers, the FCC should also consider WCBS-TV’s post-9/11 ratings boost. If television is the electronic fireplace, than a too-abrupt transition could leave millions with stolen hearths.