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Unexpected DTV fallout: Some Bright House cable customers won't see WUSF-Ch. 16 after today



Wusftv1 When Marvin Charette clicked on WUSF-Ch. 16 Friday afternoon, he was expecting to see the global news report on PBS’ Worldfocus series.

Instead, the 53-year-old Dunedin resident ran into unexpected fallout from the digital television switch, as cable provider Bright House Networks took the Tampa station out of its analog tier, making WUSF accessible only to customers with digital cable.

Charette, who only has standard cable service, isn’t sure he wants to pay the extra $1 per month charge for a tuner allowing him to see WUSF. And as a former contributor to the public television station, he’s not sure he’ll be giving money in the future, either.

“I can’t see the station – why would I give money to it?” he said. “It’s like Bright House is trying to get extra money from us.”

To minimize confusion in the transition to digital TV, cable companies agreed to keep most local broadcasters on the same analog channels they occupied before turning off their analog signals.

Wusf-digitalchannels But when it comes to PBS, cable providers are only are only required to carry one public television station in the analog and digital tier in each TV market. Bright House chose WEDU-Ch. 3 for the Tampa Bay area, because it carries more PBS programming than WUSF, broadcasts in high definition and has a higher viewership.

That meant WUSF could choose between inclusion on the digital tier – where Bright House digital cable customers could see their four different digital channels (in graphic at right) – or they could stay only on the analog tier, where all the company’s subscribers would see just one channel.

The change makes WUSF, a station licensed to the University of South Florida, the only local broadcast station dropped from the analog tier by Bright House -- which is the area’s largest cable provider with more than a million customers.

So why didn’t Bright House just leave WUSF on the analog tier, too?

“It’s a business decision,” said spokesman Joe Durkin, who would not reveal exactly how many Bright House customers could not see WUSF because they don’t have digital cable, noting that “over 60 percent” of their subscribers get the service. “We’re going to utilize the space for other programming.”

JoAnn Urofsky, general manager at WUSF, noted Comcast Cable in Sarasota pulled their station from the analog tier when they stopped broadcasting an analog signal back in April. Bright House kept simulcasting WUSF until Friday, when all Tampa stations turned off their analog signals, but didn’t tell station officials how many customers might not see their station after the switch, Urofsky said.

“Of course, I’m upset – our staff has been fielding calls all day,” added Urofsky, who acknowledged that the station learned in November it had to choose. “We didn’t know how much of a difference there was between people who have standard cable service and people who have digital.”

Dtvtranstioniamge The digital switch went a bit more smoothly for other area broadcast stations, where officials reported receiving dozens of calls from viewers who mostly had questions about installing digital-to-analog converters and orienting their antennas to improve reception.

“I think it’s gone pretty well,” said Ken Tonning, general manager at St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, which received about 200 calls Friday after ending its analog signal at 5 a.m.

And Chris Hendrix, the Gibsonton technician profiled in a Friday St. Petersburg Times story was happy to report a busy day helping customers. Hired by a Texas company as part of a government-funded program providing free installation help for converters, Hendrix got no calls until stories in the Times and WTVT-Ch. 13 highlighted his plight.

“My office had 100 messages this morning,” he said, noting that most customers needed help with reception because digital signals travel differently. “I don’t feel like the Maytag repairman any more.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:59pm]


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