Cable & The Internet vs The FCC

You may not know it, but the cable industry is fighting a battle for the future of the internet. In the grand scheme of things, I think both the FCC and the Cable and Satellite industries want to see the internet thrive. In this case I believe the FCC is making a mistake.

Every now and then, things get a little confused and in this case the confusion is going to cause the internet to take a hit. It could be a potentially big hit, and the only group fighting it is the cable industry, and yours truly.

The Cable industry has been doing exactly what every internet user in search of more bandwidth wants them to do, converting analog versions of channels to digital.  Each analog channel takes up 38mbs of bandwidth. Thats right.  CSPAN takes up more bandwidth than you have available to you for internet services. Crazy isnt it ?

The standard def digital version of the same channel takes up less than 3mbs. The typical HD version takes up about 8mbs or less. So, every time a channel is converted from analog to digital a MINIMUM of 28mbs is freed up.

Of course the bandwidth that is freed up can be used for any number of digital offerings, from more internet bandwidth (accomplished via channel bonding and Docsis 3.0), to more HD channels (which obviously is good for our HDNet), more video on demand and more.

Why has the FCC made this an issue ? Because it does reduce the number of channels available to those who connect their cable to older set top boxes or directly to their analog TVs.

So which is more important, protecting analog TV connectivity, or having more bandwidth available ? Obviously I think freeing up bandwidth should be a priority. Otherwise, what is next , stopping Youtube and other video sites from increasing the bit rate of videos because those with dialup will be forced to upgrade ?

Broadband should be a priority in this country. It not only equates to faster internet service, but it will open up many new applications that can significantly impact our society. All of which are far more important than making sure that an old analog TV can receive a few more basic cable tv channels.

35 thoughts on “Cable & The Internet vs The FCC

  1. We live in a digital world. Everything is black and white or a shade of 16 million colors or so. No need for analog any more. Give Internet more bandwidth and kick the analog bandwidth hog to the curb please. I had no idea analog channels were costing us so much in terms of limiting connectivity.

    Comment by KT -

  2. Wow, I had no idea how much bandwidth those old analog channels were consuming.

    Comment by Austin DJ -

  3. Hey Mark, first time reader of your blogs and im lost in admiration how dow to earth you are. Thanks for your truth, its truly appreciated.

    Comment by David -

  4. I have always disliked the FCC. They should only make sure that somebody is priating an signal. That is it. They should not be decided what content is put any any network that is done through private funds. but thanks ”

    Comment by -

  5. Hi Mark, I enjoy the blog, thanks for putting it out there. I have a similar question to others above. If going digital is going to help the cable companies deliver more services and channels then why is the end consumer dinged for going digital with higher prices? I don’t watch that much TVand the minimum analog package is about $20, but the minimum digital package starts around $50 once you include the box rental.

    Comment by rkt88edmo -

  6. Hey Mr. Cuban! I have to get this out there… Are you going to bash Obama for spending over 50 million dollars in a time of historic economic crises not seen since the great depression like you did BUSH and his inaugural celebration in 2004? I mean you did demand that Bush send his money to the Asian Tsunami victims why not demand that Obama send his money to the Mumbai victims of the terrorist attacks? Yes, I didn’t think so, maybe now you won’t be able to blame Bush for everything so you score “cool points” please respond to me kid!

    Comment by Andrew -

  7. Remember the days when everybody who had cable had to get a converter?
    It was no big deal for those that wanted to upgrade. Now in this instance, the reverse it strue.
    This is the same thing, but in reverse. It’s existing customers who will have to upgrade3.

    Cheap over the top boxes will make this much more palatable for those who prefer to lag.

    I agree, let’s get it done.

    Comment by Damm -

  8. Remember the days when everybody who had cable had to get a converter?

    Comment by Damm -

  9. You make a good point Mark. Free up more bandwidth.

    Comment by Russ Vandeveerdonk -

  10. It’s all about bread and circuses…at least as far as the career bureaucrats and politicos are concerned. Convince them that it is good for pay hikes and re-election campaigns and presto we’ll see that freed up band-width…..right now the baby boomers still hold a lot of sway and that kind of dictates an ambient level of technophobia in the the political realm……

    Comment by szook -

  11. This problem is similar to the phone company trying to get holdouts to switch from rotary dial to touch-tone. My mother didn’t see any reason to switch when they wanted to charge an extra $1 a month for the same service. Basic phones are basic phones. Eventually they gave her a free phone and did away with the touch-tone surcharge.

    The cable company has the same problem. I don’t know what the digital surcharge is in other places, but its $14 a month here. And the digital channels are worse than the analog because of compression artifacts.

    If the cable company really wants their bandwidth back then they need to:

    1. Drop the digital surcharge.
    2. Supply the converter box for a more reasonable $30 than the ridiculous $350 charge.
    3. Fix the digital signal quality.

    I hope the FCC drags them through a knot hole so they understand consumers aren’t going to put up with this behavior. Additionally I hope the DOJ antitrust divistion investigates them for abuse of monopoly.

    Comment by Paul -

  12. There has to be a good compromise and it really has to be city
    to city, state to state.

    It is a fact that people file for income and property taxes.

    People also pay into social security.

    That has nothing to do with anything except from that you could
    generate a list of those in a low income bracket and offer them
    20″ TV’s 1 time at cost or some manufacturer could do it for free.

    HDNET could sponspor it and your logo could pop up when the TV
    is turned on. This would target a huge portion of the poor and
    elderly who may need help.

    Now I say TV just because its basic and we know its compatible.
    Boxes may have all kind of problems. We could contract out the
    work to installers in each state and go from there.

    Hell it’s one idea that can be built on. All a matter of cost and
    with a website sponsor there is no advertising and you could control
    how it was done.

    And Cut,

    Kenny Underhill

    Comment by Kenny -

  13. Hey Mark,
    Just curious – with all of the technology changes in entertainment
    what you feel is a fair deal situation for the actors?
    In particular the union actors.
    If you have a second to respond, would love to hear your perspective.

    Comment by Melinda -

  14. I agree that it would be ideal to get every channel converted from analog to digital. However, as David Koblas points out, the cable companies charge more for digital service vs. analog service. It’s all about the bottom dollar. If the cable companies were smarter they would actually have a basic service that is all digital and charge only a couple dollars more per month than they are now for the basic analog service. Then they should start increasing the price of the basic analog service until its more than the basic digital service.

    I prefer digital channel’s, however what they are charging is ridiculous. I get a basic 20 analog channel for $15/month, if I want a digital package it nears $50/month plus box rental for the basic digital package. Why would I want to increase my cost by nearly 4x, so the cable companies can have more bandwidth. That would be like giving credit card companies higher interest rates just so they can benefit and the consumer suffers.

    It’s a two way street. They should have to give to get.

    Comment by Jason H -

  15. Nice way to screw the early adopters that own their own PVR’s.

    We are very happy with analog cable feeding directly into our
    equipment. Throw in set-top boxes, with IR-blasters and
    you have a sluggish mess as best.

    I’ve enjoyed watching my cable company’s advertisements that
    their customers won’t be affected by the digital change since
    they already convert to analog on our cable. Would hate to
    see them go back on their word.

    I had always expected an upgrade path for the DIY’ers with
    PC cablecard support. But that’s another rigged market
    where you have to buy a pre-build media PC which becomes
    absolete as the cablecard standard changes.

    Comment by Early Adopter -

  16. Hey Mark, I can appreciate your plan for progress but you re a little out of touch here dude. What about all the people that can not go out and just pick up a HDTV or areas that don’t have access to Digital? Sometime in the future, sure, but not everybody has flat screens all over the house. Some sort of compromise maybe for the less fortunate? Believe it not, there are still less fortunate out there.Even some that would not be as fortunate to know where to get them, have them installed and so on. Thanks for the thoughts.

    Comment by Frankie from Lawnside -

  17. I’m not quite sure what Mark is objecting to here. The FCC is enforcing the digital switchover mandated by Congress. This switchover frees up additional spectrum which was auctioned earlier this year for use by wireless carriers, so the spectrum is being freed up from that point of view.

    What he seems to be referring to is the requirement for cable TV companies to carry some analogue channels which will no longer be available over the air, for a period until 2012. These will only be delivered (and therefore will only take up bandwidth) to those customers who haven’t switched to digital despite all the publicity and assistance offered. So it’s pretty much an irrelevance, and won’t prevent the vast majority of end users from receiving as much bandwidth as is available.

    A bit of a storm in a teacup, overall, no?

    Comment by Jan Dawson -

  18. Happy Thanksgiving Mark. The FCC complicates things as usual. Big suprise there.

    Comment by Matt -

  19. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of digital technology and I feel
    that our country is going to move towards it regardless. But what I’m
    worried about is with digital signals it will be easier for
    organizations to monitor you, this includes the federal government
    how can we go digital, yet at the same time protect privacy for the

    Comment by Deep Paatel -

  20. I know it must be hard to see from up there on that pedestal, but um, last I checked, most people
    still own analog televisions. Deprecating analog channels in a staged, slow process should be a priority. Hitting an “off” switch
    is not the correct way to go about it.

    Funny that only cable network owners seem to want to take the mass-kill approach. Hmmm, I wonder why?

    Comment by Andy -

  21. For the most part Mark I agree with you on your posts. I think a solution is somewhere in between. I am cheap and trying to save money. I try not to watch too much TV. So I am biased. You own a digital network that you are trying to get more subscribers for so you are biased in that way. I own a DVR that is 6 years old and wonderful. I am paying more now for basic service and getting LESS than I did before. I don’t have a HD TV. I don’t plan on getting one for awhile either. It is ridiculous that if I don’t upgrade I pay more for less. And if I do upgrade I pay a lot more for more channels I don’t want! I have to get a cable box as well and pay for that rental. I then help the cable company by giving them more bandwidth if they were to get rid of all analog channels as they want to. Then they use that space to push through more channels which they then claim is the reason that they have to raise my rates! I want a faster internet connection. They just SLOWED me down when we went from Insight to Comcast. Yes, SLOWED ME DOWN.

    My solution is to have people pay for a subscription to a channel. The strongest will survive. Considering you own one of the few and best HD channels you should want this. If they made people pay for each channel AND the format they wanted it in then they could charge LESS for digital and prompt people to save money by switching instead of raising rates for digital. If you get the poor people to switch then you win. Making the “upgrade” cheaper is how that gets done. I bet they would have less resistance from the FCC if they opened choice and lowered price. The way business is supposed to be done. The FCC wouldn’t have to step in if the cable companies didn’t act like the monopolies they are. You know that Mark.

    Comment by bill ross -

  22. The concept of a “free digital box” has several flaws. Firstly, consumers tend to abuse equipment that they own, they tend to abuse equipment they rent even more and finally, free equipment receives the utmost level of abuse. Dish, Direct, Fios, Uverse all require boxes – it is part of delivering modern TV service.

    The FCC mandates that local channels be rebroadcasted due to a severely outdated law. The entire fact that people are able to receive a basic level of service is a priveledge. The cable companies do not profit from the basic level of service.

    As far as optimizing a box to carry just the basic tier set, considering that such a device lies counter to every Tv and content provider out there – those of us in the manufacturing segment just aren’t going to make them.

    For those who gained some insight here, know also that this “digital conversion” should have occured ten years ago at least.

    Comment by CLoud -

  23. I have heard that the changeover to digital would benefit the military greatly as it would free up more bandwidth for their communications. So the consumer does not get all of that freed up bandwidth, a chunk of it is going to the military. Ironically, moving to digital tempts the bean counters to divide their channels so they can multiply their profits. The end result is a strange brew of sometimes worse quality than what standard def produced.

    When compared to flat screen technology, CRT tubes actually are superior in reproducing the lower end of the contrast scale. Video signals produces a contrast range of what is know as I.R.E. I.R.E. levels below 30 are better reproduced on CRT’s then flat screen.

    Flat screen “looks better” to most people because it is brighter (and usually bluer) which makes it stand out better in many less than ideal viewing environments, um, as long as you are standing at the proper angle. Factor in that the overbrightness causes additional electricity consumption above and beyond what is necessary. Flat Screens are actually an energy drain.

    How ironic that a technology that is supposed to be “simpler and better” than analog televisions actually produces a shorter shelf life, inferior reproduction of the lower end gray scale, and higher energy consumption.

    Comment by Alessandro Machi -

  24. Good post Mark.

    The whole world needs to get their priorities straight.

    Comment by eddie -

  25. couldn’t agree more. The spectrum of cable services is a
    complex system that lots of people don’t know about but
    will be crucial to getting lots of internet to lots of
    people. And as far as i know, you’re the only person
    who writes about it

    Comment by Mike Lewis -

  26. Very valid points.

    Seems as if we’re a tad behind the times!

    Comment by Sam -

  27. The other movers and shakers in this equation are the television
    manufacturers. The tuners used are ATSC for digital over the airwaves
    and QAM for Digital cable/satellite channels. I’m sure if analog tuners and
    internal converters are no longer available on TV sets then analog
    cable is no longer of any use. Note: this would lower the cost of
    TV’s as well.

    Comment by John R. -

  28. Interesting, Mark. Cox Communications is running lots of ads on its systems lately touting that its subscribers don’t have to do anything when the digital conversion date hits. I’m kinda surprised though, that they just haven’t rolled out a two-tiered system on their local loop. They’ve got some pretty kick-ass switches every couple of blocks that could convert the signal to an individual home to emphasize more analog or more digital channels. Problem solved?

    Comment by BoscoH -

  29. Making better more efficient use of bandwidth would certainly be
    better for the economy overall but I also think taking established
    channels away from long time customers without some form of
    compensation would also be unacceptable.

    To me the best compromise would be if the cable companies provided
    a free digital box to those customers that are affected (don’t
    already have digital cable). Assuming the box was optimized to
    just provide replacements for the current set of analog channels
    I would expect the cost to be a one time expense of less than
    $40/qualifying customer. This would free up a lot of bandwidth
    which should be worth $$ to the cable company.

    Maybe the the cable industry could convice the government to
    qualify the boxes under the same program that is subsidizing
    over-the-air set top boxes. Consider it part of a stimulus plan.

    Comment by Steve M -

  30. I think this is a sign of something that’s wrong with our country.
    Why do we try to aim at and succumb to the least common denominator?
    In schools, why is it a big deal to leave a child behind?
    Why can’t we admit that school is not for everyone and allow the
    top of the classes be the standard? That’s how you get trade workers.
    In this case, why do we have to make special provisions for those
    who don’t want to catch up in our digital age?
    I think we should strive in our American business to offer the
    absolute best we can, and if it leaves something obsolete, well
    then isn’t that what happens when you have success?
    Why is something becoming obsolete so bad?

    (sorry about not using paragraphs. text box wasn’t working)

    Comment by Jay Beerley -

  31. “because those with dialup will be forced to upgrade”, upgrade to what? Large portions of rural America have no access to reasonable broadband. I’m all for more bandwidth, but it doesn’t come to the country. Satellite and 3G services arent’ adequate and are overpriced. I don’t disagree with you, but (and I hate to use this term) a real digital divide exists between urban/suburban and rural internet users and it affects our ability to provide equal education to our children and it stifles economic development and new business growth.

    Comment by David Bockes -

  32. When did we become society that bases our choices on the people that do not upgrade?
    Should we have not made the car because it would people who shoe horses out of business?
    What a sad state we are in today.

    I have always disliked the FCC. They should only make sure that somebody is priating an signal. That is it. They should not be decided what content is put any any network that is done through private funds.

    Comment by David -

  33. First of all, I’m a big fan of the blog, Mark!

    Isn’t this debate a non-starter because come February, all TV will be digital anyway?

    Also, as an aside – anyone talking about regulating ISP’s like electric,
    gas, and water utilities are?

    Comment by Ziegler -

  34. Mark,


    There have to be lines drawn in the sand from time to time. Now is the time for convergance on fiber even if it means that the occasional users misses out on Senator Foghorn.

    Converge or die.

    Comment by Terry Johnson -

  35. The biggest problem with cable companies converting from analog to digital isn’t the bandwith that is freed up, but the cost they pass to the consumer. I think every cable company charges a premimum on a digital set top box or their digital package. By moving the standard channels to digital they’re forcing the consumer to pay more for their “basic cable” package. Which is an annoying way to cause an increase in price for the same service.

    Comment by david koblas -

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