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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

People with older TVs and Time Warner Cable, may have to get digital converter boxes. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com)

Time Warner Cable may phase out analog channels


That the Game Show Network now appears on Ch. 4 on Time Warner Cable could be part of a longer-range plan to eliminate analog cable service altogether.

Since July 25, the WTMJ-TV Ch. 4 signal has been blocked for Time Warner Cable subscribers as part of the negotiations for retransmission rights.

When I worked in local TV, I had the honor of answering the phones for multiple phone banks involving the switch to digital TV in 2009. At that time, local broadcasters were mandated by the federal government to stop broadcasting over the air using an analog signal. They had to switch to digital. People with older TV sets who didn't have cable, had to get a digital converter box.

Now, Time Warner Cable is working through the process to eliminate sending analog signals, opening up more bandwidth. They are not alone in doing this, as the process started years ago by local broadcast stations before 2009.

This part can get technical, so I'll do my best to put it into simple terms. The digital signal uses less room on the cord, and if all channels were sent that way, more channels and internet access could become available.

Time Warner Cable subscribers who have older TV sets without a cable box or a simpler digital converter will need to make a change somewhere down the road. It's speculation when it will happen, but Time Warner and other cable providers are making moves towards this.

"We are moving towards a higher-quality, digital-only experience by making channels that had been available in both analog and digital formats available in a digital format only. Delivering channels digitally frees up capacity in our network to deliver faster Internet speeds, more HD channels and On Demand choices, and other new services in the future," said Mike Hogan, a Time Warner Cable spokesperson.

"We began the process several years ago of moving towards a digital-only experience. All of our direct video competitors – including direct broadcast satellite providers and phone companies – already take advantage of the efficiencies of digital delivery and deliver all of their programming solely in digital format."

One group that is struggling with this move is the Milwaukee Common Council.

Council members Jim Bohl, Robert Bauman and Tony Zielinski put together a joint statement last week.

"It has been brought to our attention that a number of channels in the local Time Warner Cable 'basic' package will be shifted to the digital tier next month, meaning that most Milwaukeeans without a newer model television will need to obtain a digital to analog converter box in order to continue to view the entire basic cable package. We are both frustrated and perturbed by this news," the statement read.

Also at issue is the council's Milwaukee City Channel. It would have to move to a digital tier, as well.

"Of course subscribers to the basic cable package could just opt to stick with their old TVs and forgo the digital to analog converter box altogether. But they will be missing out on Milwaukee's City Channel, the Weather Channel and a number of other options that used to be included as a part of their 'basic cable' analog subscription," the joint statement said.

"And by losing the City Channel from their basic, analog cable lineup, they'll be cut off from their local government as well when, frankly, we should be doing everything we can to provide more convenient access to the activities of government."

When the DTV transition took place in 2009, people could apply for a $25 voucher to help pay for the digital converter boxes that were available at most electronic stores, like Best Buy and Radio Shack.

Time Warner Cable is putting together its own program to help get boxes to customers who need them.

"To make this transition easier for our customers, we are making a special offer available to these customers. Those customers who contact us by Nov. 11 will receive a digital adapter and remote control at no cost until Dec. 31, 2014. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, each adapter will cost 99 cents per month," Hogan said.

"Broadcasters were mandated to transition to digital and most cable operators are in the process of making that same transition."

If this transition goes through, it may not matter much for WTMJ-TV to get Ch. 4 back as part of its retransmission deal. By my speculation by 2015, all of the analog channels will be moved elsewhere on the guide anyway. What hasn't been reported in all of this is that whether or not the channel numbers will simply be reprogrammed as part of the transition. If that's the case, then it is understandable that Journal Broadcast Group would like to have that spot back.

As for the Common Council, and some of its members' concerns, they had this to share:

"Let's not minimize who it is that will be most impacted by this move on Time Warner's part either — people with older model televisions who only subscribe to a basic cable package. In short, this cut in service will have a disproportionate effect on residents within the city of Milwaukee," the statement said.

"Time Warner Cable says they are shifting more channels to digital in order to free up more bandwidth and offer more services to their customers. But in the end, it's Time Warner Cable that benefits the most, and Milwaukeeans who lose out."

Talkbacks

zipper | Sept. 9, 2013 at 11:00 p.m. (report)

Main reason for this- people paying for internet, and getting free analog channels without a cable package. Far easier to turn off digital channels to a suscriber in a management device than to send truck and tech to put a filter on the customer's line. Time Warner is one of the most expensive cable and internet providers with the worst customer service. If you think there's a "quality" or "customer experience" reason for this change, think again.

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milROCKeeguy | Sept. 9, 2013 at 3:35 p.m. (report)

If people haven't dropped TWC yet and switched to Direct TV, Dish, or the great AT&T U-Verse, you're missing out. Sadly, the people that have an older TV or use TWC probably won't be able to read this very article because they don't know how to use the fancy interweb.

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