Comcast's march to 100% digital will raise rates and alienate millions

Comcast is slowly converting markets into 100% digital, which happens to free up bandwidth for a lot high-def stations. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some HDTV, but how they are doing it will infuriate millions – including myself – with digital set-top boxes on every TV and dramatic price increases. The transition shows the weakness of the companies coax network that relies on copper to deliver the signal to neighborhoods and fiber-optic for the backbone only. Once this conversion hits, cable will lose any appeal over satellite or fiber options.

When Comcast converts an analog channel to digital, it frees up enough bandwidth for three HD stations – that’s a lot. That means 150 HD stations can take the place of 50 analog channels and that is exactly why Comcast is making the switch. Satellite and fiber services tout, on average, over 50 HD stations where Comcast has around a dozen. Sure, Comcast can claim that it has more HD content than satellite but that’s only if you include the hundreds of  D-run movies and shows available via ON-Demand. The conversion to digital allows the provider to easily serve up more HD stations and also, charge a lot more in fees.

The plan is to only send local stations on the NTSC signal and put the rest of the extended basic channels on a digital QAM signal. QAM tuners are standard in TVs now, but if a TV was purchased over a year or two ago, it likely will not have the right stuff to tune-in basic cable after the switch. You will need to rent a box from Comcast for around $4 a month to receive the full basic cable package that you had been watching box-free for years and each TV will need one of these devices.

Take my house for example: the four TVs above are in my bedroom, kitchen, office, and garage. All of these SDTVs will need one of the $4 boxes to watch the 50 out of the 74 stations available on Comcast’s extended basic cable. Sure, I have two HDTVs and those have boxes, but if I am going to have to put a tuner on these other TVs, Comcast looses all of its appeal as a one-cable solution for the everyday TV and I might as well switch to other providers that also require boxes but serve up more HD right now.

I know that I am not alone in this situation either. I dare say that the vast majority of Americans have non-HDTVs that they watch basic cable on box-free. When I called Comcast minutes ago, the lady said, get this, I have excessive amount of TVs but yes, each TV will need a box if I want to watch FX, Sci-Fi, Fox News, or The History Cable – basically, anything but local stations – which will result in me spending $16 more a month and $192 more a year. 

Your best course of action as a Comcast subscriber is to contact Comcast at 1-800-COMCAST and inquirer when your market will be switched over. Large markets are being converted first with Detroit scheduled by the end of the year.

Don’t let them feed you the line that Comcast has to do this because after February 17, 2009 broadcast stations will be transmitting their signal in digital only. That’s what my Comcast rep told me, but my response was why then are the only channels available on non-digital cable going to be my local stations and channels such as FX and The History Channel going to cost more? Plus, Comcast is already providing my local stations in high-definition. No response.

And by the way, this switch has nothing to do with the digital transition on Feburary 17, 2009 and most Comcast markets will not be switched over until after the February 17, 2009 broadcast transition.

I might enjoy the extra HD stations after conversation but I am sure DirecTV or Verizon will appreciate the new subscriber one of them will gain.