Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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    Aug 05 2009

    Comcast Digital Switch Update

    I invited the City’s Office of Cable Communication and Comcast to the Energy and Technology Committee on August 5, 2009 to brief Council on the upcoming digital switch for Comcast expanded basic cable customers. Expanded basic cable customers are defined by a channel lineup of 30-70 in addition to the limited basic channel lineup. Some 50,000 households in Seattle with Comcast expanded basic cable will need to get a digital adapter (DTA). Similar to the federally mandated over-the-air digital television transition back on June 12, 2009, I want to see this switch go as smoothly as possible.

    Bottom line: As the transition date approaches this fall, my office, along with the Office of Cable Communications, will work with Comcast to make sure all customer service representatives are providing the right information and assistance to its valuable customers.

    Below is the briefing document responding to these important questions:

    • 1) What will happen?
    • 2) Why is Comcast doing this?
    • 3) When will this happen?
    • 4) How many Comcast Subscribers will be affected?
    • 5) Which Comcast Subscribers will NOT be affected?
    • 6) What will residents need to do to continue to view channels?
    • 7) Will there be a cost for the set top boxes and converters?
    • 8) Is Comcast notifying residents about the transition and what do residents need to do to prepare?
    • 9) Can subscribers obtain the set top boxes and digital converters now?

    Summary Information from the Seattle Office of Cable Communications:

    (The following is based on Information Comcast has provided the Office of Cable Communications. Please ask Comcast for an update and supplemental information.)

    What will happen?

    Comcast will eliminate analog cablecasts of channels 30-71. After the transition those channels will be available only in digital format. Those channels include major news and sports outlets such as FSN Northwest (Mariner games), CNN, and MSNBC. PEG channels, local over -the-air channels and other limited basic channels will remain in analog until 2012.

    Why is Comcast doing this?

    To free up more bandwidth for more HD channels and faster Internet speeds.

    When will this happen? The process will be phased.

    • 1. Seattle Group A (Lake City, University, Greenlake)
      • First half of Channels Removed: Oct 29
      • Second half of Channels Removed: Nov.10
    • 2. Seattle Group B (Queen Anne, South Seattle, Madison Park, West Seattle)
      • First half of Channels Removed: Oct 29
      • Second half of Channels Removed: Nov. 12

    (We recently heard from Comcast that they have already started converting subscribers living in apartment buildings and condos. We have also heard from some subscribers that they are already losing channels.)

    How many Comcast Subscribers will be affected?

    • Approximately 50,000 households, who subscribe to the expanded basic analog tier (as of 12/31/08).
    • An indeterminate number of additional households that subscribe to digital service but have some televisions without set top boxes or cable cards.
    • City buildings and schools that receive expanded basic service.

    Which Comcast Subscribers will NOT be affected?

    Digital subscriber households with set top boxes on all televisions or those with the Limited Basic analog tier.

    What will residents need to do to continue to view channels?

    They will need to obtain a set top box and/or a digital converter from Comcast.

    Will there be a cost for the set top boxes and converters?

    Comcast has indicated that it will provide affected subscribers a complementary set top box and up to two plain digital converters. However, some current Expanded Basic subscribers with HD capable televisions who now get free HD channels will need to pay a new charge of $6.95 per month per set top box capable of processing HD signals or use a splitter and A/B switch. (See below.)

    Is Comcast notifying residents about the transition and what do residents need to do to prepare?

    • Marketing to begin on September 11
    • All customers will be advised during any contact with Comcast customer service
    • Four direct mail pieces to each customer over two months
    • Three auto calls and two e-mail messages
    • Two weeks before cutoff a channel scrawl on Channels 78 and 101
    • Apartment dwellers are already getting notices

    Can subscribers obtain the set top boxes and digital converters now?

    Yes. They can call 1-877-634-4434 or go on line at: www.comcast.com/digitalnow.

    What are some of the concerns residents have discussed with the Cable Office?

    • 1. The converters and plain set top boxes Comcast will offer for free will not process HD signals. Limited basic subscribers with HD televisions can currently view HD channels from KOMO, KING, KIRO, KCTS etc. by directly connecting the cable to the TV. After the transition, residents will have to get these channels over the air or they will need to pay at least $6.95 per month (for each TV) to rent a set top box capable of supporting HD. Some subscribers with HD televisions will be able to pick up the free HD signals over the air but many will be unable to. While the use of a splitter and a switch may help we expect this to be unpopular and confusing.
    • 2. Many are concerned that they will lose their ability to watch one program while simultaneously recording another.
    • 3. Picture in picture may not work with the digital converters.

    What can the City do?

    We are preempted by Federal Law from interfering with the digital transition, but we can and are monitoring the accuracy of Comcast’s announcements. We are also working with Comcast to ensure that all City buildings and schools have the necessary converters and set top boxes.

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