Cable customers receive DTV reprieve

[Reuters]

U.S. communications regulators on Tuesday approved new rules designed to ensure that cable television subscribers who own analog TV sets will still have access to local broadcast TV channels after a switch-over to digital television in 2009.

The FCC voted to endorse rules that require cable operators such as Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O: Quote, Profile, Research) and Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) to continue carrying local broadcast channels that can be viewed on traditional analog TVs for three years after the switchover.

Broadcasters are required to switch to digital signals from analog by Feb. 17, 2009. The biggest concerns have centered on owners of analog televisions who view TV over-the-air.

Those people will have to get a converter box to continue watching television. The federal government plans to subsidize the cost of buying a digital-analog converter box by offering $40 discount coupons to anyone who owns an analog television.

The separate problem addressed by FCC in Tuesday's action centered on the 35 percent of all television homes, or approximately 40 million households, that are analog cable subscribers.

Under the new FCC requirement, companies will have to carry the broadcast channels in digital form and also convert it to analog for viewers with analog sets.

The requirement approved by the commission was modified to add the three-year time limit, and to add a provision allowing small cable operators to request a waiver of the requirement.

The changes won the support of the cable industry, which had been opposed to the new rules.

"We continue to urge the FCC to act quickly to take into account the special circumstances of very small systems, and to make clear that those systems have the flexibility to serve all their customers without a one-size-fits-all mandate," the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in a statement.

article originally published at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2182391,00.asp.

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