back to article FCC: Let's kill analogue early, fob diehards off with converter boxes

Every pay TV market has its idiosyncrasies, particularly for Multi System Operators (MSOs) such as Time Warner or Comcast in the US and Virgin Media in the UK. And in the US, one of these idiosyncrasies is the requirement that cable operators retransmit so called "must-carry" signals in both analogue and digital formats. This …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They are finally changing

    More than slightly ridiculous--the FCC absolutely prohibited having this feature in the converter boxes that were subsidized for the transition of full-powe Over-the-air analog to digital broadcasting. If they thought ahead they could have had a universal analog-to-digital converter box. Same kit that is in NTSC/ATV/QAM tuners in TV sets now.

    1. Christian Berger

      Re: They are finally changing

      Uhm, I don't think it's possible to get insight into the digital transition in the US by using reason.

      Essentially they are using vestigial sideband modulation. That's essentially a bizarre idea. Unlike DVB-T multi-path reception is a serious problem.

      If the FCC wanted to make a rational decision, they would have either chosen DVB or ISDB. Then they could have bought receivers on the international market which are cheap as chips.

      1. Eddy Ito

        "If the FCC wanted to make a rational decision..."

        But it isn't about what they wanted. This is government so in addition to being a compromise that makes everyone unhappy, we shouldn't forget the palm grease lubricating the entire government decision making process which eliminates any chance of rationality.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They are finally changing

        I believe they're talking about the transition to digital cable, not digital over-the-air.

  2. Sporkinum

    Our cable already did

    Our cable already did change to all digital and required their own box. That was all the impetus I needed to get rid of it, as it wasn't worth the cost. Now we just use an antenna and Netflix. Our cable TV company is a small town one that is not part of any large corporation though.

    1. ManxPower

      Re: Our cable already did

      When my cable company provides digital service with at least the same channels at the same price as my current analog cable service, then I'll be happy to switch. They don't. I currently pay around $35/month for the basic 15 channel package + Internet that I have. Switching to their cheapest digital package would cost me about $70/month.

      1. Stephen W Harris

        Re: Our cable already did

        When Verizon FIOS turned off their analogue channels in my area they offered a free converter box to customers. I took one for my basement TV (my main TV was already using digital via TiVo). This box will remain free as long as I keep FIOS TV service at this location. The result is that I now get all the "basic" FIOS SD channels for free on this second TV!

  3. Dan Paul

    Kill all the cable operators now! (To paraphrase Shakespeare)

    Hopefully some dumb twat from the FCC may read the following:

    I have a perfectly good Samsung flat screen TV that is entirely capable of receiving over 125 digital or analog TV channels without a godforsaken "Cable Box".

    I don't want more stations, I don't want Pay Per View, I don't want expensive "Premium Channel Packages", I don't want to rent videos, etc etc.

    I just want to watch TV unencumbered by some stupid box that duplicates the capability of my TV Tuner and Remote.

    I don't want to pay for something I clearly do not need just for the "convenience" of the cable company.

    The only thing that damn box is for is to monetize the extra features and our viewing habit history for Nielsen and Company, something I would like to be paid for.

    I should not be forced to take it because the cable operator wants to shift channels up higher or accomodate broadband internet frequencies.

    Thsi is JUST like when we were forced to buy phones from the Phone Company and that was overturned eventually.

    1. Tom 35

      Re: Kill all the cable operators now! (To paraphrase Shakespeare)

      All of the "must carry" stations should be standard QAM. I should be able to get basic cable without a box (and another remote!).

      They encript everything to force people to buy/rent their box, then they are just one click away from pay per view. Want to record something you can rent their PVR (that they control).

      Forget it, I'm not intrested so I'll just keep my antenna for local stations.

      1. kain preacher

        Re: Kill all the cable operators now! (To paraphrase Shakespeare)

        Yo know you can buy your own cable box from a 3rd party and not the cable company.

        1. Tom 35

          Re: Kill all the cable operators now! (To paraphrase Shakespeare)

          I live in Canada and in my area the local monopoly is Rogers.

          Sure I can buy a cable box in Bestbuy but it's a Rogers labelled box and I have to call Rogers to activate it, and if you get a PVR they can control it. I bought it from a 3rd party, but Rogers still own it.

          But I don't want any box. my TV has a digital cable tuner built in.

          Just give me basic cable using standard digital cable.

          But if they did that it would be much harder to get me to click that pay per view button, or sign me up for two years of the super sports package(s).

          You can't get a new analogue account, and if you want to change anything on an existing account they force you to digital.

  4. Peter Simpson 1

    I made my digital transition in January of this year.

    Returned my cable box and cancelled the service. Apple TV, online video rental and High Speed Internet service give more value for money. There was nothing on cable anymore that justified $70/month (same price as internet?)

    1. Juiceman

      Re: I made my digital transition in January of this year.

      This is the reason (at least) ATT and Comcast have bandwidth caps. They are anticompetitive and someone with balls in the US government should investigate and stop it.

      Oh, I forgot where we live. All three branches of our government are corrupt and the only "people" they work for are corporations.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: I made my digital transition in January of this year.

        > the only "people" they work for are corporations

        Uh... that depends on the "corporation". To be "worked for" you first have to pay for the privilege. And some entities (like Middle Eastern Unique Democracies, Lawyer clubs and Unions are not even corporations by a long stretch)

    2. Captain DaFt

      Re: I made my digital transition in January of this year.

      Same here. I only subscribe to my local cable company's internet service (since it was the cheapest), and get no actual "cable" on my cable.

      Oddly enough, one a week, I get a circular in the mail from them, extolling their internet service, and trying to get me to sign up.

      (That's right, they want me to add the only service I'm using to the list of cable services I'm using.)

  5. Christian Berger

    Completely impossible in Germany

    Because of shared stupidity among commercial TV stations and cable operators, German cable will probably stay mostly analogue for years to come.

    Essentially the commercial TV stations want extra money for digital viewers. And since cable operators don't want to pay a flat fee they encrypt all commercial channels, even the ones which are carried analog for free.

    Therefore you need to jump through a lot of DRM hoops meaning you need a special licensed receiver (to even get the smartcard) you need to mess around with CAMs which should work, but nobody gives you a guarantee, plus you need to pay a hefty extra fee (3 euros per month), per card.

    So while only a tiny fraction still had analogue satellite when it was turned off in may, cable is still mostly analogue. In fact since the encrypted signals used to come via rented satellite transponders and have been moved to fibre, some headends even turned off digital television completely.

    Cable is brain-dead in Germany anyhow, you don't even get BBC1. (You can receive the BBC in most of Germany via satellite)

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  7. Sly

    You still have analog TVs?

    oh... right. Those are the ones used with the old game systems that need a curved tube for the light gun (and that slow 24/30Hz refresh rate).

    The Atari 7800 is on the big flat panel in the main room.

    /coat Mine's the one with the Nintendo Light Zapper in the pocket.

  8. Herby

    The nice thing about standards... that there are so many of them. It would be nice if the "digital" was common between the cable companies and the over the air companies. You buy this nice new wide screen TV and then need a converter box to hook it up to cable. WHY? So the cable companies can have their "OWN" digital distinct from everyone else to limit your reception. What a mess!

    If the FCC does allow cable companies to go "digital" they should force them all to go with "wonderful" ATSC format.

    I long for the days of more reasonable things. Analog TV worked quite nicely around here and at one time we had channels up to number 83 (around 890 MHz). Now cell phones were allocated the range from 800-890 MHz, but since that was the 'analog' (generation 1) phone system, it isn't being used much. Perhaps the FCC should force users to actually USE their allocations or have them removed. Since you can't buy an analog cell phone anymore, why do they need the allocation? The answer usually is "we fought for it and need it for ...". Life goes on!

    1. Lance 3

      Re: The nice thing about standards...

      Well, AT&T put GSM there and they also have W-CDMA running in that band as well. Verizon put 1xRTT and EV-DO on that band as well. So while you can't buy an analog phone anymore, that band has been used for digital transmission starting in the late 90's. When the analog sunset date arrived, they turned off the analog portion and since then have expanded their use of digital on that spectrum.

      So there you go, the FCC didn't need to force them to use it and has been in use for digital transmission for around 15 years now.

  9. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    "Essentially they are using vestigial sideband modulation. That's essentially a bizarre idea. Unlike DVB-T multi-path reception is a serious problem."

    Actually it's not. The first generation tuners had SEVERE multipath problems. Just terrible. The tuner stick I bought like 2 or 3 years ago was 5th-generation, and tolerates severe multipath... enough that it'd ghost out an analog picutre about one and a half lines. Apparently, as a tradeoff, ATSC permits reception at lower signal levels than DVB-T. Which is good because my stations are like 70 miles away and the signal strength is awful.

    @Dan Paul, no worry, this isn't a plan to switch from current system to something else, it just permits the cable co to shift analog channels to digital-only, and provide a cheaper box to people who don't have a box. The cheaper box actually *doesn't* allow pay-per-view, and has no useful program guide (since they want to charge $5 a month for the privelge of having one of *those* boxes.) It's like type in the channel and it comes in.

    "Now cell phones were allocated the range from 800-890 MHz, but since that was the 'analog' (generation 1) phone system, it isn't being used much"

    That's wrong, the analog systems have been vritually all decomissioned. But, the band is by no means vacant -- in almost any populated area of the country, the band is absolutely full with the cell cos choice of either GSM/EDGE + WCDMA, or CDMA + EVDO. I can verify in my area, Verizon Wireless has 8 CDMA-1X and 3 EVDO channels in their portion of the 800mhz band, and US Cellular has their portion of the band full of CDMA and has to use some additional PCS (1900mhz) to run EVDO. There's probably a couple 100khz guard bands at the "edges" of their bands that are essentially wasted, but I doubt even 1mhz is clear in most cities.


    I'm not sure how useful this is -- my local cable company ALREADY gone from having analog channels from 2-78 to having analog on the "broadcast basic" 2-22.. so from 77 channels down to 20. Last I saw digital cable, it still was unwatchable, close to a year after the analog (near) shutdown they still hadn't moved the digital channels around onto those 57 or so freed up channels. Turns out (especially since they are still using MPEG2, no MPEG4 like Dish Network and DirecTV use for their least for HD..) that putting like a dozen stations (i've seen as many as 15!) on one 6mhz channel looks blocky as all hell, and putting like 6 HD stations on one 6mhz channel also looks awful. Go figure. But that's the point, they already can turn off most analog stations, to the point that they probably do not have enough digital to fill them up anyway.

    That said, if this happens I'm cancelling. I get most of my stuff over the air anyway (MythTV, an ATSC tuner stick and an amplified Grey-Hovermann antenna), but have the broadcast basic cable for like $13 a month. I'm not going to go the trouble of trying to rig an IR blaster to control some dumb cable box for the little that that offers, and also don't care to spend the bucks for a QAM capture device.

    1. Christian Berger

      Lower signal levels

      I wonder if that "lower signal level" this is the truth. Every well designed system now approaches the limits set by Shannon quite closely. So the difference probably is far less than a dB depending on how you set up the multiplex. This is more than compensated for by the ability to have SFNs.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Analog was fine

    Analog was fine. When the weather get's windy the signal get's snowy, but you can still hear EVERY WORD on the Audio side. With the digital receivers, it's like the complete packets aren't making it through the trees, and so we get this Ma ma ma max glitch (Like the famous Max Headroom digital delay) it always seems to happen on important local crime news, or when some politician says some new law is going to fuck everyone's rights.

    It's no accident this shit is happening now.

    1. Christian Berger

      If only you knew

      If only you knew how much more effort it was to get the analogue signal up and running. In most countries the switch to digital cut transmission powers by a factor of 10 or more. (I think the UK is the exception) You now also need just a fraction of the spectrum as you can have SFNs.

      Digital simply is cheaper in the long run.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If only you knew

        Forgive me for not giving a damn. Like the guy above, I spend a lot of time at a place where analogue reception isn't so perfect already to say the least; when they go all digital I can prepare for not having any picture or sound at all.

        Digital television is a large step back in terms of error correction, and as long as it's like that I frankly could not care less about how cheap it is for the operators.

        1. Peter H. Coffin

          Re: If only you knew

          Nope. It's great strides forward in error correction. The correctable errors get CORRECTED. It's a step back in error tolerance and compensation because a degraded but possibly useful signal is not passed on if it cannot be fully corrected, and since there's no facility for retransmission of uncorrectable data, nothing can be done but wait for the signal to get better enough to fall into the correctable range again.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, America

    A third world nation by any standard except money. A place where legislation is a condensation of interests which, if not actually vested, are at least in posession of a nice cardigan.

  12. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge


    Where I live, Comcast does not run ANY analog TV stations over the cable. None. Nada. They did for quite some time, but as of June 1, they stopped. Prior to that, there were about a dozen channels sent down the wire that my analog sets could get directly without a box. Now, only digital signals.

  13. Mage Silver badge

    Cable vs Terrestrial

    US cable is a similar modulation to Europe, it's DVB-c

    Terrestrial Digital in US is different to cable OR European Digital

    No Terrestrial Digital and Cable Digital uses the same system as cable can be better SNR and no multipath the DVB-C or DVB-C2 allows x4 as many stations per channel.

    There are four main Terrestrial Digital Standards now.

    DVB-T is just one of them and now has 3 main variants:

    Old DVB-T is MPEG2 only

    Newer DVB-T uses MPEG4 for SD and HD

    DVB-T2 is more efficient Modulation and usually uses MPEG4 for SD & HD.

    Standards. Wonderful for Choice :-)

  14. K. Adams

    Doesn't Bother Me One Bit...

    I gave up on cable and OTA television years ago. Lately, I've found that there hasn't been much on the telly that I absolutely MUST watch.

    Various web-based news sources provide my informational needs, and all of the shows in which I have an even mild interest are carried by (free) Hulu and (not-quite-so-free) Amazon Prime...

  15. Dropper

    I'm glad you like paying more for the same thing..

    All digital cable boxes give you is an extra cost per TV. Also you lose any free HD versions of network TV channels (our equivalent of BBC, ITV and Channel 4), so I'm not really seeing any upside.

    Once you start paying for this wonderful new package, if you want HD you will be charged for an HD capable box as well as an additional subscription for HD channels. Your HD is still 1080i, just like it was with analogue cable, because the delivery of your TV hasn't changed and the same bandwidth limitations still apply. No one has marched over to your street and replaced the copper with fiber, they just gave you a bunch of boxes, then charged you for them.

    Yes you could get additional premium channels if you really like giving away your money.. or you could toss out cable altogether and get a digital antenna, Hulu Plus and Netflix.

    1. Chad H.

      Re: I'm glad you like paying more for the same thing..

      Wasn't analogue tv 640x480?

      1. Dropper

        Re: I'm glad you like paying more for the same thing..

        Nope, in the US you get 1080i / 720p HD over analogue cable - if your provider makes the HD version of the channel available, not all do.

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