From today's Arizona Daily Star
Customers critical of Cox HD; company says more is coming
Availability part of debate over public access
By Rob O'Dell
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.12.2007
advertisementCox Communications often portrays its cable franchise negotiations with Tucson as a simple trade-off: less public access channels for more high-definition offerings.
Company executives contend cutting public access channels will open up bandwidth for more high-def (HD) channels in the next few years.
But many Cox customers are criticizing the company for not practicing now what it is preaching for the future.
Wendell Byram, a retired technology executive who lives in Green Valley, said he just moved here from Boise, Idaho, where the HD offerings were much more plentiful from another cable provider.
"It's significantly better and the town is 185,000 people," Byram said. He added, "Wouldn't you think" Tucson would have better offerings as a larger market?
Byram said the offerings in Tucson are limited, although he thinks Cox could provide more HD channels if it really wanted to. He said the issue holding the company back is probably money.
Robert Bishop, a retired engineer in Green Valley, has two HD TVs but is cutting Cox's HD service on one of them because of the high costs involved.
"There's not enough HD programming and they're raising rates," Bishop said. "It's crazy."
Cox counters that it has steadily added HD channels over time, announcing Friday that the company has just signed a deal to have the local NBC affiliate, KVOA, available in high-definition.
"We've already contracted for PBS, CBS and ABC," said Anne Doris, Cox's vice president for Southern Arizona. "We've just recently inked an agreement with KVOA."
KVOA President and General Manager Gary Nielsen confirmed the agreement and said he hoped KVOA could be on in HD by mid-March.
For a long time, Cox only offered one local broadcast channel in high-definition: CBS affiliate KOLD. Then, in November, the company began offering ABC affiliate KGUN in HD on the eve of the giant Michigan-Ohio State football game broadcast on that channel.
Doris said Cox's HD lineup depends on contractual agreements it has signed with the content providers. It offers as many HD channels as it has contracts for, Doris said.
For example, it doesn't have FOX in HD because the company is negotiating with Fox on a contract to deliver the programming.
Those negotiations are happening at the national level, Doris said. Fox 11 General Manager Tod Smith said the same, adding it's mainly talks between each company's headquarters.
Joe Curry, a Sahuarita software technician, said Cox's HD channel lineup is inferior for one reason money.
"I'm sure the issue is money. They don't want to pay subscription fees for the high-def programming," Curry said.
Curry doesn't buy Cox's bandwidth argument, saying, "They've got the bandwidth to get high-def channels."
Doris said Cox "intends to have at least two more broadcast channels in HD" regardless of when it settles its cable franchise renewal with the city. Negotiations broke down last month, with the number of public access channels being the main stumbling block.
The city vowed to take Cox through the time-consuming and expensive federal license-renewal process, while Cox helped introduce a bill in the Arizona Legislature that would dictate the license renewal terms to the city.
Doris said just because there is the bandwidth available to provide more HD channels now, that "doesn't mean we won't need more in the future.
"We need the bandwidth to accommodate that," Doris said.
That's why Cox wants to reduce the number of public access channels, she said, because those channels limit Cox's bandwidth and future opportunities for HD channels. "Our bandwidth challenges are real challenges," Doris said.
But Sahuarita customer Curry said that if the city is going to allow Cox to drop the public access channels, it needs to extract concessions on the HD channels Cox says are right around the corner.
"They need to make sure they are required to upgrade their HD channel lineup," Curry said. "And make them stick to their schedule to bring them online."
● Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4240 or email@example.com