Beginning in March, Antietam Cable will be phasing out analog delivery of some channels, meaning customers with older televisions will need digital converters or adapters, Antietam Cable President and General Manager Brian Lynch said Thursday.
The change will free up capacity to add additional channels and offer faster broadband Internet service, Lynch said.
Televisions with built-in digital tuners — called QAM tuners — and those already connected to the company’s digital converter boxes will not be affected, Lynch said. Most TVs sold since 2005 have built-in digital tuners, he said.
For other customers, the company is providing as many as two adapters per household free of charge through the end of 2012, he said. Beyond that, the adapters will cost 79 cents per month.
Antietam Cable has mailed letters to affected customers asking them to respond with their equipment needs by Feb. 28 by visiting www.antietamcable.com/GoDigital or mailing in an included card. The last batch of letters was mailed Tuesday, Lynch said.
Customers with questions may call 301-797-5000.
The customers who will be affected are those with Antietam Cable’s Basic Plus package, he said.
The company will continue to provide its Broadcast Starter package channels, such as local ABC, PBS, NBC, Fox and CBS affiliates, in analog format, he said. However, the Basic Plus channels, such as ESPN, CNN, A&E, and History, will be converted to digital-only.
Antietam Cable’s other packages, such as Digital Starter, Variety Plus and Digital Gateway, are already offered in digital-only, he said.
The company plans to begin the transition during the first 10 days of March, converting one or two channels at a time, with a goal of having all converted by April 1, he said.
There will be no rate increases associated with the digital conversion or the new channels, but the company does have an unrelated, annual rate change coming up in April, Lynch said. He said he did not know how much the rate increase would be because negotiations are still going on. The company expects to announce the rate increase in March, Lynch said.
Unlike some larger cable companies, which have required all customers to get a digital box, Antietam Cable is not requiring the box for customers whose TVs can receive digital signal without it. That flexibility means even if a customer needs an adapter at first, as soon as they buy a new TV, they will no longer need the adapter, Lynch said.
“What we’re trying to do is make this as accessible and as customer-friendly as we possibly can, while still moving out of what I call ‘the realm of 45 records,’” Lynch said.
Television broadcasters in the United States ended over-the-air analog transmission in 2009, but Antietam Cable has continued to transmit analog signals over cable, he said.
Analog transmission requires more capacity than digital, he said.
“In any cable system out there, you have a maximum capacity of operation,” Lynch said. “Generally, in the world we live in, about 75 percent of that overall capacity — of the ‘size of the pipe’ for lack of a better term — is used up by the analog channels.”
The capacity used to transmit one analog channel — A&E, for example — could hold 10 to 12 digital channels, he said.
When analog transmission of the Basic Plus channels is phased out, only 30 percent of Antietam Cable’s capacity will be used for analog, compared to about 75 percent now, Lynch said.
With the new capacity, the company will be introducing 24 new high-definition channels, several new standard-definition channels, additional broadcast Internet speeds and TV Everywhere, which allows users to watch products like HBO on their tablet devices anywhere in the home.
The full list of new channels will be announced in April or May, but Lynch said it will include WGN, Nat Geo Wild and Boomerang in both standard and high definition, and high-definition versions of channels such as Travel, Golf, Science and Ovation.
Lynch said the company was not ready to announce the specific Internet speeds that will be introduced, but he said all current customers would see increased speed for their current plans.
Antietam Cable and The Herald-Mail Co. are both owned by Schurz Communications Inc.