Friday, December 3, 2010

Itís crunch time for Cox customers

Valley to become companyís 2nd all-digital service area


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum resident Gerry Wilson leaves the Cox Communications office with a stack of digital conversion equipment Thursday in Ketchum. Photo by David N. Seelig

Even newer televisions with built-in digital tuners will need cable boxes when Cox Communications, the valley's primary cable provider, upgrades its channels from analog to digital on Dec. 13.

Dan Wherry, Cox's director of operations in the valley, said that's because the TV's internal digital tuner merely intercepts over-the-air digital broadcasts, while the box decrypts digital cable channels. Cable providers send digital channels encrypted to control illegal copying of certain programs, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission for copy protection of digital content.

The benefit of going all-digital

Cox, the nation's third largest cable and Internet provider, is just beginning the switch to all-digital, with the Wood River Valley being the second service area to do so, behind Phoenix. Wherry said he has received allegations of Cox using the valley as an experiment.

"We're absolutely not a test bed," he said. "We're not a guinea pig."

Cable provider Comcast has already made the transition in much of its areas, as has Time Warner Cable.

"All systems will eventually get there," Wherry said of Cox, which also serves Omaha, Neb., Cleveland, Pensacola, Fla., Providence, R.I., and about 30 other areas of the country. "Analog is just an old, inefficient technology."

Wherry said the valley currently receives channels in digital format, which Cox has to downgrade to analog, losing quality and taking up more bandwidth. The benefit of going digital is that Cox can offer more on the same cable, such as high-definition channels and entertainment on demand. Picture quality will also improve for channels 2 through 60.

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"It sets the ability of our system to roll with whatever comes out," he said, listing things like three-dimensional programs, higher-speed Internet, more interactive technologies and unknown products to come. "I want people to understand this is not an underhanded thing, but to stay caught up with technology, an investment in the valley."

He said customers are "frankly" asking for the upgrade, mentioning residents who have moved here from places such as Seattle, wondering why this area doesn't have what cable offers there. And, Wherry said, the average customer—having one or two TVs—won't take a financial hit.

He said each TV will need a box, and Cox will give each customer two cable boxes for free.

"It's not a temporary offer," he said. "That box will remain without charge."

However, he said, some valley residents have up to 35 TVs hooked up to cable.

"There are people who have that many TVs," he said, adding that it's by no means "usual."

He said Cox operates in some high-end areas, such as the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes, but rarely sees customers with as many TVs as some people in the Wood River Valley.

Wherry said customers will have to pay a monthly fee of $5.25 for every cable box beyond the second. He said the hope is that the next wave of changes for TVs will include the decrypter within the set, as the digital tuner was added a few years ago.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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