NCTA Offering Two-Month, Channel-Migration 'Quiet Period'

Says it would minimize consumer confusion during DTV transition

The cable industry is offering not to migrate channels from analog to digital for a two-month "quiet period" beginning Dec. 31, 2008 and extending to March 1, 2009, billing it as an effort to "minimize consumer confusion during the broadcasters’ digital TV transition and help ensure the success of that transition."

In a letter to top legislators, including the chairman and chairman-elect of the Senate Commerce Committee and House Energy & Commerce Committee, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association proposed that "quiet period," and also said its members will offer a "promotional" package of a broadcast basic tier to new customers and, on request, will provide free equipment to analog customers for at least a year to make sure that analog customers can still see channels that do migrate to digital.

NCTA said that was a way to smooth cable's own transition to digital service, which will free up bandwidth for advances services. "We recognize that the overlap between cable’s digital migration and the broadcasters’ DTV transition scheduled to occur on February 17, 2009, inescapably adds a layer of complexity and the potential for consumer confusion," said NCTA.

The use of the terms "quiet period" and "consumer confusion" evokes another quiet period NCTA is pushing for.

Cable operators have asked the FCC for a moratorium on TV station signals being pulled from cable systems due to retransmission consent impasses for about the same period of time, the beginning of January until sometime in March. Broadcasters have volunteered a much shorter period, about four weeks immediately surrounding the Feb. 17, 2009 DTV transition date.

Cable operators argue that if TV stations disappear from cable systems in the run-up to the transition, viewers might be confused into thinking it had something to do with the DTV switch.

Cable operators have taken some heat from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin over the digital channel migration issue. 

Consumers Union applauded the NCTA's move, but said it was only a short-term step in a long-term journey toward pricing and other cable issues.

“We applaud cable operators coming forward to help consumers make the transition to digital television with less confusion and at a lower cost," the group said in a statement. "This initiative is a welcome first step to help consumers navigate a costly maze of confusion surrounding the DTV transition. While the cable effort doesn’t resolve long-term consumer problems with high prices and discriminatory practices, it should offer welcome short-term relief to many consumers.”