Cable Subscribers Get Three-Year Analog Viewing Respite

Cable TV subscribers won’t have to worry about receiving local TV programming on their analog TV sets, at least until February 2012, three years after analog TV broadcasting is scheduled to end. Wednesday the FCC announced local broadcasters primary video and programming material must be viewable by all subscribers.

This is good news for owners of personal video recorders, laptop USB tuners and older TV sets, as well as anyone who does not want to rent a cable set-top box to receive local TV channels on their main or secondary TV sets. The bad news is, as far as I can see, that no effort has been made to require cable companies to put digital basic programming on unencrypted digital channels. While many cable companies are already carrying broadcast DTV signals unencrypted, there is currently no requirement for them to do so. Unless this issue is resolved, even people that purchase new DTV sets with “ClearQAM” capability will be unable to receive all basic cable channels without renting a set-top box. Furthermore, viewers that want to watch digital cable on their laptops or PCs won’t be assured they will be able to receive local stations over digital cable without a set-top box, which is likely to be difficult to interface with the laptop or PC.

I’m surprised consumer electronics manufacturers haven’t insisted on unencrypted digital basic cable. Perhaps they, and consumer organizations, will be able to do this before the analog requirement ends in February 2012. One hope is that the FCC says cable companies can carry broadcast signals in digital format only before the deadline providing all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content. The FCC agreed to review this requirement in the last year of this period. Perhaps by saying that if the digital signals are carried without encryption and are receivable on TV sets with “ClearQAM” tuners, they will have met the viewability requirement in the FCC Order.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.