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

Only thing left on the channels is fat ladies singing

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Opinion 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 means they still provide analogue access to a few universal public and also local broadcast channels, just as digital terrestrial television has been required to do until switch-off – at least in in some countries. There has been some relaxation of this rule over recent years, for example avoiding the need for MSOs to carry the same channel twice when broadcast by two nearby stations, which was clearly ludicrous.

Now the US regulator, the FCC, is circulating a proposal that would distribute low-cost converter boxes to allow analogue customers to continue to view TV station signals, thus relieving MSOs of the burden of carrying them. The proposal, if passed, would come into effect on 11 December, 2012. The FCC is talking up the benefits of using the analogue spectrum for new digital channels and increased broadband.

Broadcasters have protested, pointing out that cable operators had originally agreed to carry both the analogue and digital signals to oil the wheels of digital transition. But their complaints have been fairly muted, indicating even they agree the time has come to move forward, since the rule affects a small and diminishing number of people. Expect the FCC proposal to be carried.

Copyright © 2012, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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