Originally Posted by mattdp
The FCC requires that cable companies carry all local digital channels on their system in Clear QAM (unencrypted digital)
Unfortunately, this is not as clear-cut as it seems. The laws are written vaguely and give the cable companies lots of room to meet the requirements in name only. As recently as 2009 the cable companies were still petitioning the FCC for ways around clear QAM altogether -- with some success apparently.
I used to have all the FCC documents handy, but not anymore. They can be found by searching the FCC's website.
Yes the cable companies must provide a version of local channels, but the law does not give exact details on the quality, nor does it require that they carry all sub-channels.
An elderly relative of mine in St. Paul had basic cable and only watched the local channels. When he got a new TV, I hooked it up and showed him that he no longer needed to pay Comcast for a box if all he wanted was the local channels. I received several calls from him later on telling me that the HD channels had gone away.
To make a long story short, it seems that Comcast made frequent changes to the frequency and mapping locations of the local QAM channels, and the changes caused my relative's QAM tuner to lock up until a reset and rescan was performed. The Comcast people were clueless and tried to up-sell my relative on an HD package with an HD box. When I attempted to explain the situation to them and mentioned the law required them to provide the digital locals, the Comcast tech said the SD downconvert versions that were part of basic cable met the requirement and they had no obligation to provide the HD versions.
In the end, I was able to convince my relative to allow me to hook up an antenna to the TV, and shortly thereafter, he canceled his cable service.
BTW, the difference in quality between the QAM locals via Comcast and the OTA versions was astounding. The OTA version was better in every regard.