Cable TV operators say they'll voluntarily stop moving analog channels to more expensive digital tiers of service between Dec. 31 and March 1, to avoid confusing customers as the nation switches to digital broadcast transmissions in February.
In letters to Congress this week, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said cable TV companies don't want to add a "layer of complexity" as U.S. broadcasters begin to transmit all-digital signals after Feb. 17.
Cable companies are facing regulatory scrutiny over their practice of switching analog channels to digital — leaving analog consumers with fewer channels to watch unless they use adapters, rent a digital set-top box or upgrade to digital. Cable operators say they are trying to accommodate customers by offering promotions such as free adapters.
Cable TV operators' decision to move analog channels to digital frees them to use their network bandwidth for more high-definition content and other services. It is not related to the national switch to digital broadcasting. Regulators are investigating whether providers are misleading customers into thinking the two events are linked, which could prompt more people to opt for digital video services.
Once cable operators resume moving analog channels to digital, from March 2 to June 30, the companies will give analog households at least one piece of equipment free for one year to let them continue watching in analog. Certain fees also will be waived temporarily. The industry promised to notify customers and franchising officials at least 30 days in advance of the switch.
Consumers Union, which had criticized cable's channel-switching tactics, hailed the move as a "welcome first step to help consumers navigate a costly maze of confusion surrounding the (digital TV) transition."
But the group also said that while the voluntary quiet period provides short-term relief to consumers, it doesn't resolve problems with "high prices and discriminatory practices."