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post #1 of 228 Old 01-05-2004, 01:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Now that Brambleton, VA is FINALLY about to start testing cable HDTV service next month (February 2004), I am starting this thread to concentrate all Brambleton HDTV news and gossip in one place.

As some of you in our community may know, for the past several months I have been in touch with Jack Buckhorn, the Director of Information Systems at Gatehouse Networks (our community's telecommunications overall provider), trying to find out information on HDTV cable TV deployment in our area. Here is everything that I know as of right now:
  • A temporary antenna has been erected to capture local OTA HDTV broadcasts. The permanent antenna will be located atop the water tower currently under construction on Belmont Ridge Road.
  • As I mentioned above, HDTV service will begin initial testing next month on two channels, with the official rollout set for late Q1/ early Q2 2004. The two test channels have not been decided upon yet--see below for important information on this.
  • Gatehouse will not be renting HD-DVR boxes for the foreseeable future. This is, in my opinion, an ill-advised decision by our cable provider, and may drive many HDTV owners in our community to erect ugly satellite dishes and rooftop aerials so that they can avail themselves of forthcoming HD recording/timeshifting solutions from Echostar and DirecTV.
VERY IMPORTANT: There will be a meeting of the Brambleton Technology Club at the Visitor's Center (42645 Regal Wood Drive) on Wednesday night, January 7 at 7:00 PM. At this meeting one of the agenda items will be the upcoming HDTV tests, and there will be a vote on which channels will be tested. If you're an HDTV owner in Brambleton and you want a say in which two channels should be tested first, I strongly urge you to attend this meeting. This would also be a good opportunity to let The Powers That Be know that HDTV-savvy owners in Brambleton aren't going to settle for sub-par service that doesn't include a way to record/timeshift HDTV... I will certainly be bringing this up as an issue at the meeting.

We pay a LOT of money in our homeowner's association dues for our first-in-the-country FTTH service, and HDTV has been a long time in coming to Brambleton. Please come to the Tech Club meeting Wednesday night and let's make our voices heard! Also, please keep all HDTV-related discussions for Brambleton here in this thread from now on, so that we will all have a central go-to point for news and discussions on HD service in our community.

See you Wednesday night!

Edit: Updated information below... some of the above info was inaccurate/incorrect.


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post #2 of 228 Old 01-05-2004, 01:42 PM
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Scott - Where is Brambleton at ? I used to live in Reston and Annandale .

You CAN put antennas on your owned and/or controlled property...

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post #3 of 228 Old 01-05-2004, 02:06 PM - Thread Starter
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Brambleton is a largish unincorporated community (big enough for its own high school, not big enough to be an incorporated city) of about a dozen different developers located in Loudoun County, Virginia northwest of Dulles Airport. If you're driving north towards Leesburg on the Dulles Greenway toll road, we're the second exit off the toll road on the opposite side of the freeway from Ashburn.

Brambleton is the first community in the country where every condo, townhouse and single-family home has fiber optic to the house (FTTH). Although a lot of communities in the United States have fiber optic cables snaking by their houses, ours is the first where the optical connection goes right into the house. We get all of our telephone, internet and TV service over this single connection, but as I mentioned above our telecommunications provider has been very slow to take advantage of this big fat pipeline into our homes to roll out HDTV service. It's finally coming to pass, but unless the folks in our community start complaining and showing up at meetings, we'll never have the kind of HD cable service that many AVS members with dreary old copper cable service are already enjoying.


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post #4 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 10:51 AM
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Originally posted by Scott Gammans
.[*]Gatehouse will not be renting HD-DVR boxes for the foreseeable future. This is, in my opinion, an ill-advised decision by our cable provider, and may drive many HDTV owners in our community to erect ugly satellite dishes and rooftop aerials so that they can avail themselves of forthcoming HD recording/timeshifting solutions from Echostar and DirecTV.[/list

I don't see Gatehouse not offering a HD PVR box as a problem. Not that I live in Brambleton, but if given the choice, I'd prefer to supply my own hardware.

Assuming that Gatehouse has an unscrambled QAM or 8VSB signal plant, why not use something the the new LG HD PVRs like this .

That way Gatehouse can concentrate on providing a clean signal and not worry about CPE issues. I would imagine this would keep your HOA fees from going even higher than they already are...

Regards,

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post #5 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 11:25 AM - Thread Starter
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As far as I know, they're still going with 8VSB over cable for the initial deployment... hopefully I'll be able to get some clarification at tomorrow evening's meeting. (EDIT: They are NOT doing 8VSB over cable... see below.)

The problem is that when they eventually start offering HBO and other premium channels in high definition, those channels will almost certainly be scrambled 256 QAM or 64 QAM which DVRs like the LG won't be able to record. Of course, that's still a ways off--their satellite channel provider doesn't even offer HD channels anyway (or at least they didn't the last time I asked Jack--another question that I'll try to get resolved tomorrow night). Also, I don't want to buy a DVR. That model you showed me probably will retail for at least $500. Comcast is renting similar boxes for $10 a month. It would take over four years to realize any savings by buying my DVR vs. renting--and by the time four years is up that DVR will be antiquated technology. At least with a DirecTV box I'm getting TiVo instead of LG's antediluvian Gemstar guide.

It's just frustrating that with our advanced fiber optic distribution network we have the potential to have a killer HDTV system... I want my hundred channels of HDTV now, darn it!


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post #6 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 11:36 AM
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Why the need to scramble HD HBO and other premium HD channels? I was under the impression that premium channels were included in the basic package of your FTTH community...

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post #7 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 11:59 AM
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Good luck with it !

You CAN put antennas on your owned and/or controlled property...

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post #8 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 12:23 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:


Originally posted by sasha_j
Why the need to scramble HD HBO and other premium HD channels? I was under the impression that premium channels were included in the basic package of your FTTH community...

Uh, no. It's not enough that we already pay over $200 a month in HOA fees... if you want HBO, Showtime, etc. you have to pay extra for it. And to add insult to injury, Gatehouse has already announced that once the test phase is over, HDTV channels will also be a premium service. TANSTAAFL!


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post #9 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 12:35 PM
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So $200 a month gets you:

- standard HOA services like trash, pool, tennis, clubhouse, landscaping of common areas, etc
- 1 POTS land line with unlimited local calling
- high speed ISP connection w/ email
- basic cable TV over fiber package

Did I get that right? Miss anything?

For our SFH in Cascades we pay:

$48/month HOA
$65/month POTS and DSL
OTA free, no cable or DBS

Just trying to get a sense of comparison. Of course Brambleton is pretty cool...

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post #10 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 01:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:


Originally posted by sasha_j
So $200 a month gets you:

- standard HOA services like trash, pool, tennis, clubhouse, landscaping of common areas, etc
- 1 POTS land line with unlimited local calling
- high speed ISP connection w/ email
- basic cable TV over fiber package

Did I get that right? Miss anything?

Local telephone service is not included in the HOA package. Also, we have to pay $10 a month for the ancient NTSC Motorola digital cable boxes that Gatehouse is currently using. The set top boxes are so old, in fact, that they don't even have S-Video or digital audio outputs... only composite video and L/R RCA audio. Bleccch.


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post #11 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 01:15 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally posted by Scott Gammans
Also, I don't want to buy a DVR. That model you showed me probably will retail for at least $500. Comcast is renting similar boxes for $10 a month. It would take over four years to realize any savings by buying my DVR vs. renting--and by the time four years is up that DVR will be antiquated technology.

Whoa... it's even worse than I originally speculated. Another AVS member got a eye-popping quote of $899 for that LG HD-DVR... which would mean that it would take almost 7-1/2 years to realize a savings vs. renting a DVR for $10/month. Still think buying is a better option than renting?!

It's looking more and more like I will be erecting a DirecTV dish and an OTA antenna this Spring, unless Gatehouse buys a clue and rethinks their HDTV deployment strategy.


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post #12 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 07:02 PM
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No POTS line included? Isn't Gatehouse partnering with Verizon on this??

I thought the whole point of FTTH is to have one conduit into the home for combined voice, IP and TV services! Landsdowne FTTH is operated by OpenBand and they provide POTS in addition to TV and IP.

I see your point on the HD PVR....My anal retentive tendencies showing....

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post #13 of 228 Old 01-06-2004, 08:40 PM - Thread Starter
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Oh, there is only one conduit... that single thin fiber optic cable carries my phone, cable TV and high-speed Internet into my basement where a splitter box the size of a fat laptop computer splits the signal into its three component parts. From there the three signals are distributed throughout the entire house... pretty neat.

But... I still have to pay for the phone service, the cable box for the TV service, the fixed static IP address for the 'net (needed for telecommuting), and (coming soon!) the paltry few HDTV channels that they'll be offering. They nickel and dime you to death here in good old Brambleton, except that it's more like $10 and $20 instead of $0.05 and $0.10.


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post #14 of 228 Old 01-08-2004, 10:25 AM - Thread Starter
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OK, here is a little more info gleaned from last night's meeting. Jack Buckhorn (the Director of Information Systems at Gatehouse Networks) was actually at the meeting and I got a lot of clarification on several issues.
  • The test for local HDTV channels will begin in March, not February.
  • The two local channels to be initially tested were voted on at last night's meeting but the results are not available yet. EDIT: The two channels are WJLA-DT (ABC) and WRC-DT (NBC) on Gatehouse cable channels 91 and 93, although for the Super Bowl this weekend the test channels will include WUSA-DT (CBS).
  • Gatehouse will be sending 8VSB over the existing cable for the local channels being tested, so all that you will need is an HDTV tuner to get the signal. EDIT: This information is incorrect; see below.
  • Premium HD channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) will be offered eventually when HD service is officially rolled out (hopefully Q3 2004, in time for the 2004-05 TV/football season). These channels will be probably be 256 QAM scrambled (waiting for clarification on that point), which means that a Gatehouse-supplied box will be required for those channels.
  • Once the "version 1.0" service is rolled out, Gatehouse will be offering some sort of HD-DVR solution. (When Jack told me earlier than no HD-DVR would be offered, he meant that no DVR would be offered for the initial tests commencing in March.)
  • When the full HDTV service starts, it will be an upgrade to the basic cable package that is included with our HOA fees. Pricing and the channel lineup are TBD.
If you haven't done so already, I suggest that you contact Amanda Jensen, the telecom director for Brambleton, and sign up for the next Technology Club meeting. Her number is 703-542-2924.


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post #15 of 228 Old 01-12-2004, 03:54 PM - Thread Starter
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Two new bits of news:
  • The two stations to be tested are WJLA-DT (ABC) and WRC-DT (NBC). Personally I think these are excellent choices, since it lets us test both 720p (ABC) and 1080i (NBC) as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 (ABC).
  • Gatehouse Networks will be moving into their new head-end facility on February 25th.


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post #16 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 08:55 AM - Thread Starter
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Well, now that Gatehouse has started the HDTV tests it is clear that the information we were given at the January 7 meeting was inaccurate. Gatehouse is not using 8VSB over cable as originally planned; you must use an HDTV tuner that is QAM capable (e.g., the Samsung SIR-T351). Regular over-the-air 8VSB tuners like the RCA DTC-100 and most HDTV televisions with a built-in tuner that were built before the 2003-04 model year will not work with Gatehouse's cable HDTV.

My advice for now would be to forgo hooking into Gatehouse's cable HDTV if you don't already have a QAM-compatible ATSC tuner. Why spend $500+ on a QAM tuner for two channels when you can get almost all of the local channels over the air with a cheap 8VSB tuner like the DTC-100? This is only a stopgap measure anyway until this fall when Gatehouse rolls out its full-blown HDTV cable service with premium channels and DVR offerings; why waste the money on a QAM tuner that will be obsolete by the end of the year?


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post #17 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 10:14 AM
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as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 (ABC).

Since WJLA-DT doesn't broadcast DD5.1 on its OTA signal, how will it be DD5.1 on the Gatehouse Network?

Going to sign up for Dish Network?
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post #18 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 10:51 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally posted by CycloneGT
Since WJLA-DT doesn't broadcast DD5.1 on its OTA signal, how will it be DD5.1 on the Gatehouse Network?

D'OH! I assumed that WJLA was broadcasting the DD 5.1 signal from ABC... silly me; I should have known better.

Obviously if WJLA isn't passing through ABC's superior sound, Gatehouse won't be cablecasting it either.


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post #19 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 10:57 AM
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Maybe you can talk Gatehouse into carrying WMAR-DT which does offer 5.1

Regards,

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post #20 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 02:04 PM - Thread Starter
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Yeah, that'll happen! They were originally supposed to offer 8VSB over cable and they didn't do that, so I highly doubt that they will go out of market to get a Baltimore station when the local ABC affiliate is alive and kicking.


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post #21 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 05:41 PM
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I'm in Broadlands Southern Walk and we are connected to OpenBand also. Based on what I can find out .. they don't have a clue. I just bought the new LG 3510a and will settle for OTA via antenna for now. I was going to go out and get DirectTV, but get this ... they wouldn't let me. DirectTV says that Openband is already providing me DirectTV. I argued that they aren't providing HD services and just got lip service. I didn't push it too hard b/c I was already on the fence about paying for Sat when I get cable for free. This just pushed me to OTA for now.

Open band uses the same crappy Motorola boxes. High tech ... whatever. The internet access is the only thing thats good so far (stable 1M or better).

Later, Chad
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post #22 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 06:44 PM
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Originally posted by pauleyc
I'm in Broadlands Southern Walk and we are connected to OpenBand also. Based on what I can find out .. they don't have a clue. I just bought the new LG 3510a and will settle for OTA via antenna for now. I was going to go out and get DirectTV, but get this ... they wouldn't let me. DirectTV says that Openband is already providing me DirectTV. I argued that they aren't providing HD services and just got lip service. I didn't push it too hard b/c I was already on the fence about paying for Sat when I get cable for free. This just pushed me to OTA for now.

Open band uses the same crappy Motorola boxes. High tech ... whatever. The internet access is the only thing thats good so far (stable 1M or better).

Later, Chad

Chad, your provider is OpenBand. Brambleton is serviced by Gatehouse. And I wouldn't exactly say you get cable for free. The cost is rolled into your HOA monthly fees which I'll bet aren't cheap.

Regards,

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post #23 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 07:35 PM
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Sorry, I know its Openband .. but I meant its like Gatehouse (private). My HOA is $202 which is close to equal to the sum of the parts (if you add it up). Our system is copper for phone/cable and only the internet rides on fiber.
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post #24 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 07:44 PM
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Chad do your HOA fees cover POTS line?

Regards,

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post #25 of 228 Old 01-27-2004, 07:48 PM
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Yes, but we rarely use it. The 571 area code sucks.
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post #26 of 228 Old 01-28-2004, 07:39 AM - Thread Starter
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Hmmph. Even though we are in the 703 area code it's still a long distance call for any of my friends in the District to call me, so I'd say being in 571 isn't so bad, especially if the POTS line is included in your HOA fee.

Now then, forgive me for trying to steer this thread back onto the subject of Brambleton HDTV service, but here's the summary of what we know so far:
  • Cable HDTV service has begun a free testing period on channels 91 and 93. The stations being offered are WJLA-DT (ABC) and WRC-DT (NBC), but for Superbowl weekend only WRC-DT is being replaced with WUSA-DT (CBS).
  • Modulation is QAM, not 8VSB as originally envisioned. This means you must use a QAM ATSC tuner, and there are very few of those out there. One box that a Brambleton owner has successfully used is the Samsung SIR-T351, which retails for about $450.
  • Since Gatehouse will be offering a set-top box this fall when full HDTV service begins, there's not much point in spending a lot of money on a QAM tuner that will be obsolete by the end of the year (Gatehouse will almost certainly scramble premium HD channels, rendering your $500 QAM tuner useless).
  • Gatehouse has stated that an HD-DVR will be available when full HDTV service begins this fall. No word yet on whether this means one will be available for rental or purchase, or at what price.
  • When full HDTV service begins, it will be an upgrade from the existing service--and again, no word on pricing yet.
  • Several Brambleton homeowners have had great success with cheap 8VSB tuners like the RCA DTC-100 and a $10 indoor UHF antenna from Radio Shack (including me). If you want local HDTV channels right now, skip the two measly channels Gatehouse is testing and get yourself an el-cheapo tuner on eBay. You'll still be able to use it for a backup tuner once full-blown cable HDTV service begins this fall, and you'll spend half as much as you'd pay to buy one of the new QAM ATSC tuners.


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post #27 of 228 Old 01-28-2004, 08:43 AM
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You guys get all the DC HD locals via indoor antennas? I guess the homes there are situated on relatively high terrain.

Regards,

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post #28 of 228 Old 01-28-2004, 08:57 AM - Thread Starter
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We are. We're at the top of a hill northwest of Dulles Airport, which enables me and my neighbors to get away with cheap $10 UHF antennas from the rat shack for our OTA broadcasts. The only stations I cannot pick up are WETA-DT (PBS) and WDCA-DT (UPN). I don't know why I can't pull in WETA, but some of my neighbors with attic antennas receive it just fine. WDCA, of course, "transmits" with the radiated power of a dental x-ray machine, so there's no hope for HDTV Enterprise. (But not to worry; UPN is apparently killing that show anyway. By the end of this season, there may not be any reason to tune in WDCA at all.)


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post #29 of 228 Old 05-05-2004, 10:09 AM
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Any new updates since last winter? I see there is now a community intra-net and a technology group.

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Sasha Jevtich
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post #30 of 228 Old 05-05-2004, 11:13 AM - Thread Starter
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Hey Sasha! Long time no hear.

Unfortunately, there is not much news to report on the Brambleton HDTV situation. The only change from my January 28 post is that Gatehouse Networks is once again showing WUSA (CBS) on channel 92, bringing the HDTV channel count to a whopping three stations (WUSA, WRC and WJLA). All three channels are cablecast with unscrambled QAM modulation, which means that most existing OTA HD tuners won't work. I don't know of anyone who has gone out and bought a $500 QAM box for three measly stations... what's the point? All three are easily pulled in with a cheap DTC-100 and a pair of wabbit ears.

There is still no word on when we will be getting more channels, a QAM STB, or a DVR. Gatehouse's Jack Buckhorn keeps gamely showing up at our monthly Technology Club meetings, but he always reports the same thing, that more channels and gear will be offered "sometime this fall". I was hoping the FCC April 1 firewire deadline would speed things up... this is the text of Code of Federal Regulations Title 47, Part 76, Section 640:

Quote:


(4) Cable operators shall:

(i) Effective April 1, 2004, upon request of a customer, replace any leased high definition set-top box, which does not include a functional IEEE 1394 interface, with one that includes a functional IEEE 1394 interface or upgrade the customer's set-top box by download or other means to ensure that the IEEE 1394 interface is functional.

Unfortunately, the key here is that Gatehouse isn't leasing anything to us right now. They are calling the three HD channels that they're offering right now a free "promotion" (and only viewable if you go out and buy your own QAM HD box), so it is their position that they are exempt from Title 47.

So that's where things stand right now... only three local HDTV channels that aren't viewable by 99% of Brambleton residents. Whoopie.


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