Comcast expands county digital service
Company providing free converters to most basic cable customers
By MARC SHAPIRO Staff Writer
Published 08/05/09Comcast will upgrade its cable service in Anne Arundel County and Annapolis this fall, giving a free digital converter to almost all its remaining basic cable subscribers.
Advertisement In a nationwide program, Comcast will give converters and digital-cable boxes to thousands of residential and business subscribers to free up space on its network for faster Internet, more high-definition channels and more video on demand.
"It's going to benefit all of our customers," said Scott Allison, senior vice president of regional operations. "By going digital, we'll be able to compress the digital signal to free up more space."
The World of More program will target Comcast's remaining analog customers over the next two years. Company officials declined to say how many county subscribers will be offered the scanner, but estimated it at about 15 percent nationwide.
Subscribers to the expanded basic service in the county and Annapolis can ask for the converters immediately. Starting next month, the conversion will mean some changes in the channel lineups.
Limited basic customers, which Allison described as a small number, will not get the upgrade.
Comcast said the change will allow it to make more efficient use of its countywide fiber-optic infrastructure. One analog channel takes up the same amount of space as 10 digital or three HD channels, Allison said.
"The customers want more choice, more services, and they want it when they want it," he said. "Down the road, we could have infinite amounts of on demand."Comcast will ship one digital set-top box and two converters with do-it-yourself instructions on request. Customers also can pick up the boxes at customer-service centers in Millersville and Annapolis.
For an $18 fee, Comcast will send a technician to install the box and converters.
"It's so easy to do this," Allison said. "These DTAs (digital-to-analog converters) are very fast. It happens in minutes."Channels with start to switch on or about Sept. 28, when the first 24 channels will go digital. Another 23 will switch around Oct. 28, and 38 new high-definition channels will launch Oct. 10, officials said.
John Lyons, county cable administrator, said most cable companies are making an effort to go digital.
"It's part of the transition with the whole cable industry to make space for the HD channels, which everybody wants," he said. "They just have to go to a more efficient way of sending the cable channels."
There also is an element of competition. Verizon offers all-digital television and Internet services through its FiOS network.
Comcast, however, remains the county's largest cable company. It has more of the county's 151,921 cable subscribers than either FiOS or Broadstripe, according to Lyons' office.
And while company officials said the changeover won't be tied to a rate hike, it follows a 6.4 percent increase in November, according to TV4US, a nonprofit organization that tracks cable-consumer issues.
Lyons said he expects some customers to be frustrated by having to deal with new technology and changes in the way their TVs work.
Unlike Comcast, Broadstripe still promotes its analog service.
"There's a lot of folks out there that are cost-conscious consumers and they're just looking for a lower-cost alternative," said John Bjorn, general manager for Broadstripe's mid-Atlantic region. "Probably about 30 percent of our subscribers are analog."
However, he expects all customers to change over to digital eventually.
"Even they are going to transition eventually because everybody wants to see more things, people want to see the high definition," Lyons said.
Yesterday, the company announced a new pricing program called Broadstripe Forever, which locks in rates for life for good customers who sign up for voice, TV and video.
The company began offering the lifetime price guarantee Monday to new and existing residential customers for about $130 for video, high-speed Internet and phone service. It will be available for a limited time only, according to a release.http://www.hometownannapolis.com/new...l-service.html