Digital TV Broadcasts and Analog Cable

Analog cable customers should be able to watch local stations.

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Concerns are mounting that many TV watchers won't be ready for the switch to digital broadcasts in February 2009. But a number of people have asked what happens to customers who get their analog signals through cable.

They shouldn't worry. The government is requiring that cable systems make sure their analog customers can continue to watch local broadcast stations, at least through 2012.

Many cable systems want to convert all their channels to digital. The efficiency of digital signals, which require less bandwidth, means the cable companies can add more channels on the same wires. That means more room for pay-for premium channels, HDTV, and overall better service.

But the Federal Communications Commission says that if a cable system converts to digital, it must provide analog customers with a converter box. Those converters would be similar to the boxes that digital cable customers now use on their analog sets. They're also similar to digital tuners that broadcast customers will need for their old analog sets.

Some private estimates say 40 million U.S. households still get at least some of their TV through antennas hooked up to analog sets. The government says just about as many get analog signals from cable companies.

That's a lot of homes still using analog signals. But at least half of them shouldn't need to do anything, for now.


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