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As deadline nears, broadcasters and cable clash over DTV transition

As the clock ticks toward next February’s analog shutdown, broadcasters have accused the cable industry of sowing confusion about digital television to boost its bottom line.

A recent article in “Consumer Reports” said the cable industry is transferring channels from analog to digital without lowering the price for the analog tier. The article suggested cable is confusing TV viewers in an attempt to boost cable bills.

The NAB responded by asking for an FCC investigation into cable practices. “While broadcasters have donated a billion dollars in airtime and education to ensure a seamless transition to digital television,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, “some in the cable industry seem to view DTV as merely an opportunity to raise rates.”

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association disagrees, answering back that the NAB should spend more time helping its stations ensure a trouble-free transition.

NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said the real issue behind the NAB’s criticism is retransmission consent. “This is a pathetic attempt to use the digital transition to mask the obvious desire by some stations to impose many millions of dollars for what is otherwise free over-the-air TV by misuse of retransmission consent,” Dietz was reported as saying.

It’s no secret that cable expects to pick up millions of new subscribers after the analog shutdown. Since the Wilmington, NC, DTV test, it has become apparent that many viewers will need new antennas to receive DTV.

Comcast announced last week it would offer a year of free basic cable service to customers that also take at least one other service such as phone or Internet access. The cable operator is also offering a year’s worth of basic cable for $10 a month, and giving current customers free hook-ups for additional sets in the home.

“The simple fact is that basic cable is the easiest path through the digital transition . . . with no new boxes, no new remote, no antennas and no reception issues,” said Derek Harrar, general manager of Comcast’s video services division.