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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 4, 2009 at 9:00 PM

TV updates: Comcast digital switch, DTV & the Fisher-Dish spat

It’s time for an update on some of the digital TV stories I’ve covered the past few months.

They’re all still in flux, but here’s the latest:

— On March 16, Comcast will begin to switch its expanded basic customers in Washington to digital channels, spokesman Steve Kipp said today. I’d been hearing from customers that dates for the conversion were starting to trickle out of the company.

The company is switching channels 30 to 70 from analog to digital, a move that mostly affects expanded basic customers. Those customers will have to have some sort of Comcast device on every TV after the switch takes place. Comcast will provide two of the devices free; additional units can be rented for $1.99 per month.

Comcast plans to phase in the conversion, after testing in nodes of its network. On March 16 it will begin by converting 20 of the 40 expanded basic channels to an encrypted, digital format in particular areas of Snohomish, Pierce and King counties.

Kipp wouldn’t say when the move will extend to the rest of the state, but it will happen by the end of the year.

The initally affected communities include parts of Enumclaw, Covington, Black Diamond and Cedar Downs in King County; Mill Creek, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and Clearview in the north end; and in Pierce, parts of Buckley, Bonney Lake, Carbonado, Eatonville, Graham, Orting, Prairie Ridge, Roy, South Prairie and Wilkeson.

The first channels to go digital there will be AMC, Animal Planet, Bravo, Cartoon, CMT, E!, Food, FX, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MSNBC, MTV, Oxygen, Sci-Fi, TLC, TNT, Travel, TruTV and Versus.

— Expect to hear more today about the bigger digital TV switch — the federally mandated conversion of free, over-the-air broadcasts from analog to digital.

The FCC is holding a hearing today in Washington, D.C., to discuss what’s happening and how to proceed, now that Congress has pushed TV stations’ deadline from February to June 12.

— Even less clear is the situation for Dish Network customers who haven’t been getting Fisher Broadcasting channels — including local affiliates of ABC — since Dec. 17. The two companies are still haggling over contract terms.

A Dish spokeswoman said “there’s no update at this time” and “we don’t disclose status of negotiations anyway.”

Comments | Topics: Comcast, Digital TV

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