Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


October 9, 2013

Subscribers of Service Electric Cablevision who don't have some kind of device between the cable coming into their home and their old television may need one in a few weeks. That's because the company is converting the rest of its channels from the old analog system to digital.

In a letter to subscribers last month, Service Electric announced plans to move programming offered on dial positions 15 through 22, C-Span and Hazleton Area School District programming to a digital-only format during the week of Oct. 28. A second layer of changes will come during the week of Nov. 11, when programming seen on dial positions 2 through 14 will move to digital-only.

"Our Classic Cable subscribers who have the Local Advantage package will be affected," said Service Electric Cablevision General Manager Tim Trently. "Channels 2 through 22 are the only channels left that we have not converted to digital. Those subscribers will need a device to continue to see those channels, unless they have purchased a television in the last two to three years." Trently estimated out of the firm's 33,000 subscribers, about 1,500 don't have a device, or have an older television that cannot receive the digital signal.

Subscribers who have a digital video recorder; or DVR, or televisions equipped with a QAM tuner, or some type of an HD or HD/DVR converter, won't be affected, and won't have to do anything. "Those with a QAM tuner, which are built into the newer TVs, will have to rescan their television, because the channel lineup is different," Trently said. If subscribers do not have a DVR or a newer TV, they will need a DTA, or Digital Transport Adapter, which is a small black box many subscribers already have. "If someone needs a black box, they can get up to two free from us," Trently said. "They can call us, and we will schedule a free installation. They can also pick them up at our office, but they still have to call us so we can activate the box. Anyone who wants more than two boxes can rent them for $1.95 per month each." Hazleton Standard Speaker

Google's cheerleaders will give it credit for AT&T's decision to begin rolling out ultrafast gigabit broadband to customers in Austin, Texas-after Google's own agreement with the city to deploy superfast Google Fiber. And that's just fine.

Stagnation is not exactly the word we'd apply to the 900,000% increase in average home Internet speeds over the past 15 years. Verizon recently doubled the bandwidth available to its fiber customers, prompting speed upgrades from Time Warner and Comcast where they meet head-to-head. Google wasn't involved. But it's also true that none are offering the cheap gigabit speed Google says it will deliver in a handful of selected markets, causing joyful paroxysms among the company's admirers. Google's marketing is a bit like McDonald's offering 12 ounces of Coke in a 48-ounce cup. A gigabit is indistinguishable from 10 megabits if your actual Internet use consumes only a fraction of the capacity on offer. But never mind. Google deserves every salaam for transforming the competitive dynamics of the marketplace, just not in the way its fans think.

Google's real innovation was to tunnel under the regulatory morass that inhibits physical broadband deployment. Why is Google introducing Google Fiber in Kansas City and not its native California? Google's own Milo Medin has explained repeatedly that regulatory brambles make California "prohibitively expensive." Kansas City not only is more business friendly, it slashed the taxes and mandates that municipalities inflict on cable and telco operators. Most crucial was allowing Google selectively to extend its network into neighborhoods where customers would make it worth Google's while.

This is a regulatory revolution in a world where, to build out their cable systems, cable operators for decades have not only been dunned for economically unjustified franchise fees (read gratuitous taxes to plump up local government) but shakedowns for everything from youth centers to studios and equipment for government-run public access channels. In one case, a former Queens Borough president in New York City in the 1980s killed himself amid an investigation that would eventually include charges that a go-between had sought a million-dollar bribe from a local cable company.

Verizon is the only major operator to extend fiber directly to a large number of homes, its FiOS service, which it pretty much stopped rolling out three years ago-though Verizon might have every reason to resume if allowed to target future deployments more efficiently. AT&T's decision to compete in Austin was explicitly premised on being given the same permissions Google received, including being allowed to skip running fiber at great expense in neighborhoods where no takers were likely to be found. Randall Stephenson , AT&T's CEO, was rapturous at a recent investment conference: "It has just totally changed the cost dynamics of deploying fiber. In Austin, we're really jazzed."

Would that Washington were ready to join the clearing of obstacles to this new spurt of broadband competition. AT&T has been waiting nearly a year for an intelligent response from the Federal Communications Commission to its proposal tophase out its 100-year-old copper phone network, starting with a test-run in selected markets to show how a combination of wired and wireless broadband can give every customer an option superior to today's antique dial tone.

Verizon, AT&T and Sprint-Softbank are all heralding a reality that has hardly yet entered the FCC's thinking-when mobile and fixed converge, becoming practical substitutes for each other. Verizon and AT&T not only are talking up the capacity of their 4G (and someday 5G) networks to carry high-def video in and out of the home. Both plan to devote swaths of spectrum to replicating in some fashion the broadcast TV business model. How this might work is far from clear, but a factor is the FCC sitting on the existing broadcast TV business, with its vast spectrum holdings, preventing it from finding its own place in the digital landscape.

All this renders even more quaint the scrap over "net neutrality." Verizon is battling in a U.S. appeals court the FCC's effort to impose this regulatory conceit on the broadband industryŚwith certain bloggers insisting that if Verizon wins, it will represent "the end of the Internet," because, you know, there's not enough competition to make sure broadband operators don't "censor" the Internet in their own interest by blocking access to websites that compete with their own services. Uh huh. The truth is, competition has been more than adequate so far to police the Internet, and now competition is getting jacked up a serious notch as the video explosion stimulates a deluge of new investment. Now if the regulatory establishment would just take "yes" for an answer. Wall Street Journal

A poll suggesting Republicans could lose control of the House of Representatives and with it two Pennsylvania congressmen, is little more than political propaganda, the party's congressional campaign arm has argued. The survey, conducted by left-leaning Public Policy Polling for the liberal advocacy group, argued that 17 GOP representatives would lose re-election because of their strident support of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Two commonwealth congressmen - Mike Fitzpatrick of Bucks County and Pat Meehan of Delaware County - were among those cited as vulnerable. But Ian Prior, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the survey was little more than wishful thinking. "If someone paid for this poll with Monopoly money they still would have gotten ripped off," Prior said. "This 'survey' is nothing more than a political ploy by a liberal organization that manipulated numbers to get the results it needed to push its intellectually dishonest narrative. Perhaps the National Journal said it best - people should take these polls 'with a big grain of salt.' "