Cablevision to eliminate 16 analog channels

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As it continues to move toward digital and high-definition TV programming, Cablevision is dropping more analog channels in its family package.

The Bethpage company, which had been transmitting about 60 channels in digital and analog format, will eliminate the analog feed for 16 channels, including Lifetime, MTV, CNN Headline News and MSNBC, throughout its service area by mid-May. Digital customers who have more TV sets than they do set-top boxes would need additional boxes to continue getting the channels.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association defended the gradual migration to digital as necessary "to meet the increasing demand for digital services and higher-speed broadband."

The Cablevision change has prompted complaints from some subscribers who didn't realize they'd have to rent extra digital equipment to keep service they now have on all their TVs.

About 150,000 or 5 percent, of the company's 3.1 million customers throughout the metropolitan area subscribe to the family package, or expanded basic service, in analog - with cables connected directly to TVs - and will not be able to watch those channels without digital equipment. It costs $6.75 a month for each digital set-top box and $5.95 a month for navigation service.

Another way to receive digital programming is with a digital TV set equipped with a slot for a cable card, which carries a fee of $2 a month.

For current analog-only customers, Cablevision is offering to provide one digital set-top box and navigation free for one year. In a statement, Cablevision said, "Digital offers a number of significant benefits, including better picture, clearer sound, many more channels and choices."

Angelo Gentile, whose family has five TV sets but only two boxes in their Selden home, discovered last week that he would have to pay more. The change will add $20.25 to his monthly bill of $160 for bundled Internet, telephone and cable TV service.

"I'm paying the same amount of money for a lot less channels," he said.

Marilynn Pannell of West Islip, who has two digital cable boxes, said the dropped analog channels "will not be in the kitchen, will not be in the tiny little office, will not be in the sunporch or my daughter's upstairs bedroom," where she has TV sets not connected to boxes.

Cablevision, which owns Newsday, said its competitors - including Verizon FiOS and satellite TV providers - also require a set-top box for each TV and don't offer any analog options.

"Our customer notification process was extensive and included on-screen messages on the Cablevision guide channel, which is available to all analog and digital customers, multiple letters and answering machine messages to analog customers and bill messages for digital customers, with outreach beginning a full month before the duplicate analog channels were eliminated," said Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella.

Verizon phased out a small number of duplicate analog channels on its basic FiOS TV package. Time Warner Cable, which serves parts of New York City, also has been moving some analog channels to digital tiers.

Nationally, such moves have prompted an outcry from consumer advocates.

The Federal Communications Commission in November directed companies including Cablevision and Time Warner Cable to answer questions about their process of dropping analog channels. In January, the FCC proposed fines against Cablevision and eight other cable TV operators for not responding fully to the inquiry according to an agency spokeswoman.

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