I have written previously about what NCTA calls the "2nd DTV transition" - the switch of basic tier cable signals, e.g. CNN, C-SPAN, from analog format to the euphonious, consumer friendly "64-QAM" format. But now that the over-the-air switch is a double event in February and June, is the cable event the 3rd transition?
I note that FCC has improved its consumer information on this issue somewhat:
Note the last sentence which indirectly explains the 8-VSB/64-QAM difference that we policy wonks know all about.
"Does the DTV transition affect TV sets that are connected to cable services?
No. If you subscribe to cable service, the DTV transition should not affect any TV sets that are connected to your cable services. The DTV transition applies only to full-power broadcast television stations – stations that use the public airwaves to transmit their programming to viewers through a broadcast antenna.
No. Cable companies are not required to switch to digital service. Cable companies may choose to make their service all or partly digital, but they are not required to change from the analog service they offer today. In fact, the FCC requires cable companies to continue to provide local stations in analog as long as they provide any analog service, even after June 12, 2009.
Some cable companies have decided to switch to digital service. This is a business decision made by the cable companies and is not required by the federal government. Your cable company may decide to move certain cable channels off of its analog service tier and onto a digital service tier, or it may decide to switch to all-digital service at once, so that there is no analog service tier for any subscribers. If your cable company decides to move some or all of the channels it provides onto a digital service tier, it may notify you that you need to get "digital cable" equipment to continue receiving that cable service. This may include renting or purchasing a digital cable set-top box or purchasing a digital cable ready TV equipped with a "CableCARD" slot. The digital cable equipment is different from the digital-to-analog converter boxes that are used to receive over-the-air broadcast signals. [Emphasis added]
But do a sanity check. Ask your neighbors and the elderly with CATV if they know that they will soon either have to have new equipment or pay an additional charge for the basic tier non-must carry signals they have been watching with their analog TV sets.
Then reread the first sentence in the FCC quote: "If you subscribe to cable service, the DTV transition should not affect any TV sets that are connected to your cable services." This is legally correct, but how many people other than policy wonks really understand it at present?
Just be prepared for a major backlash unless this issued is clarified with the public. It is not enough for both NCTA and FCC to say that it isn't their fault. They should give the public realistic expectations and schedules.