Comcast's digital expansion adds to need for converters

Comcast's digital expansion adds to need for converters

URBANA – Comcast will digitize its "expanded basic" channels later this fall, requiring some area customers to get digital set-top boxes and digital adapters.

The change won't take place for several months, but Comcast is encouraging customers to make the change early by providing additional stations to those who do.

Most Comcast customers – about 78 percent nationwide – already subscribe to digital cable, so they won't need to make changes unless they have secondary TVs that aren't properly equipped.

Also largely unaffected are people who subscribe to basic cable, receiving only channels 2 through 20.

Who will be affected: Comcast's "standard" customers who get not only the basic channels but also the "expanded basic" tier of channels – channels 23 through 70.

"Later this fall, we will digitize those channels, so customers will need some sort of digital equipment from Comcast to view those channels," Comcast spokesman Rich Ruggiero said.

Comcast will provide standard customers with a digital set-top box and up to two digital adapters at no additional charge. Digital customers will be provided up to two adapters, he added.

Customers will be able to get the equipment by ordering online, ordering toll-free by phone or picking it up at service locations, such as the Comcast office in Urbana. More information on how to get the equipment will be conveyed to customers in coming weeks.

Most people will be able to install the set-top boxes themselves, but customers who want Comcast to install it can schedule an installation visit for $16.49, Ruggiero said.

As an incentive for making the change, Comcast will make several additional channels available to standard customers beginning March 9.

Digital Starter tier stations that will be added to the standard tier include the Lifetime Movie Network, religious stations Trinity Broadcasting and EWTN and Comcast XTRA – three Big Ten Network overflow channels that carry Big Ten games not carried by the Big Ten Network.

At the same time, Digital Starter subscribers will get several new channels included on the Digital Classic tier. Those channels include Bio (formerly the Biography Channel), Bloomberg TV, C-SPAN 3, Hallmark Movie Channel, History International and PBS Kids Sprout.

Ruggiero said Comcast is digitizing the "expanded basic" tier of channels so it can provide more high-definition programming.

"This process allows us to double, and then some, the high-definition channel lineup later this year," he said.

That's because digital transmission is more efficient than analog transmission. For example, the amount of network capacity ESPN takes when transmitted in analog could be used to transmit several sports channels digitally, Ruggiero said.

Not only does converting to digital free up more space for high-definition channels, but it also makes more network capacity available to accommodate faster Internet speeds, he said.

Ruggiero said once Comcast's standard customers have digital set-top boxes and adapters in place, they'll be able to receive digital subchannels associated with over-the-air stations in this area.

Those include WCIA's sister station WCFN, WAND's weather station, WILL Create and WILL World, and WBUI's This TV, plus WEIU and WEIU World, C-SPAN 2 and Weatherscan Local, he said.

Standard customers who elect not to get any digital equipment will eventually be converted to basic customers who get only channels 2 through 20, he added.

No rate increases are scheduled for Comcast customers at this point, Ruggiero said.

Basic customers pay $11.12 a month for service, while standard customers pay $54.74 a month. Digital Starter customers also pay $54.74 a month, and Digital Preferred customers pay $68.70 a month.

Standard service isn't offered to new customers and hasn't been offered for about a year, Ruggiero said. Comcast "grandfathered" in that level of service when it acquired the local cable system from Insight.

Comcast also offers Digital Economy service, which includes a set-top box, basic channels and a selection of expanded basic channels but not the whole tier. It doesn't include the most expensive programming on expanded basic, such as sports channels, Ruggiero said.

Digital Economy service is available for $29.95 a month if the customer subscribes to Comcast's Internet or phone service as well; otherwise, Digital Economy is $39.95 a month.

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