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Public-access channels slam Charter’s plans

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
August 1, 2008
— An association of Wisconsin public-access channels on Thursday strongly criticized a Charter Communications plan to change its cable TV service.

Charterís plans would push its customers to buy into digital technology before most are ready for it, said Mary Bennin Cardona, executive director Wisconsin Association of PEG Access Channels.


ďWeíre really disappointed that theyíre trying to push this. We think itís discriminatory and really harmful to our communities,Ē Cardona said.


Charter spokesman Tim Vowell defended the company, saying very few customers are likely to be inconvenienced.


The changes were announced in a brochure mailed to customers last month. They included more entertainment channels and moving the public-access channels to the 900s, which are available only to those with digital TVs.


Not just any digital TV will do if customers want to view the digital channels, including the public-access channels. The TVs will need CableCard technology or something called a QAM tuner.


Customers could keep their older, analog TVs, but they would have to rent a digital-conversion box from Charter for $5 a month.


Vowell said very few customers are expected to want the conversion box. He said when Charter made a similar change in a market of 50,000 customers in another state, only 30 asked for conversion boxes in the first 90 days.


But Cardona said at least half of Charter customers donít have digital TVs, and itís not known how many of those with digital TVs have the updated technology to handle Charterís digital signal.


Vowell said at least half and up to 65 percent of customers in some of Charterís Wisconsin markets already have Charter digital equipment, in addition to those whose TVs have built-in, Charter-ready technology.


Cardona said public-access channels would lose half their audiences. Vowell suggested that very few people who want to watch public-access TV will be inconvenienced.


Vowell noted that the 900s are very close on the channel lineup to the single- and double-digit channels, where the public-access channels now reside.


Cardona said her group has been meeting with Charter officials, who wanted the groupís endorsement of the changes.


ďEverything they offered us was just Band-aid fixes that didnít go near far enough to alleviate the harm,Ē Cardona said.


Vowell has said that Charter is considering giving the digital-conversion boxes to customers for free for a limited time to ease the transition, something it had done in another market.


Cardona said the changes might violate state and federal laws. She said the association is considering a lawsuit.


Charterís plans include the addition of Fox Sports Net-Wisconsin, also known as FSN-WI HD; AnimalPlanet-HD; Smithsonian Channel-HD; TBS-HD; In-Demand-HD; and The Movie Channel-HD.


Also, viewers would be able to see not only their own public-access channels but also those of surrounding communities.


FSN-WI HD is now scheduled to be added Wednesday, Aug. 20, but no dates have been set for the other changes, Vowell said.


CHARTER CHANGES

Charter Communications plans to send a postcard to its customers next week, announcing that some of its planned changes will go into effect Aug. 20.


The changes are:


-- FSN-WI in HD will be added on Channel 761. The channel carries Milwaukee Brewers games.


-- WBUW-TV/Madisonís CW moves to Channel 2.


-- SoapNet moves to Channel 82 on the Expanded, digital-only level of service.


-- TV Guide moves to Channel 99 on the Basic digital-only level of service.


The postcard asks customers to expect more channel changes, which will be announced in future mailings.


For more information from Charter, call 1-888-438-2427.



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