Blog Archive

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

UPDATE on UK Men's Basketball Games

Here is the latest on UK Men's Basketball and the tournament they are playing in this week. UK vs Cleveland St. will be at 3:30 pm today. Depending on whether they win or lose, Wednesday's game will be at either 6:00pm or 8:30pm.

We cannot get either of these games to show on our cable system. Eddie Russell, our Cable Manager, contacted everyone we could think of yesterday, CBS College Sports Programming Manager, UK Media Office, etc. Apparently our state owned university thought it a good idea to sign a contract with a tournament which, in turn, gave the tournament organizers the right to allow the games to be exclusively marketed to Insight Cable, for only a handful of markets in the state. That means that if you pay state taxes and live in Louisville, Lexington, or Bowling Green, your taxes get you a shot at seeing our university play basketball in this tournament. If you live elsewhere, like here in Glasgow, then you pay but don't get to play. Even our state capital Frankfort will not have it, according to our friends at the Frankfort Plant Board.

Obviously, we all think this situation is quite unfair. The folks at our University should not sign a deal to participate in a tournament that is not going to make the video of the games available to everyone in Kentucky, period.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Frozen Pictures and Blue Screens

Over the last few weeks we have started to experience some problems with the delivery of the broadcast stations from Nashville and Louisville. This trouble manifests itself as a frozen image or blank screen, and it is one that we predicted long ago as the FCC mandated that broadcast stations change from analog to digital. Back in 2006 our newsletter carried full details of this matter and, since our prediction is coming true and some folks are concerned, I am reprinting that 2006 article below:

With apologies to Professor Harold Hill and everyone associated with The Music Man. . . Well, we got trouble my friend, right here in Broadband City. . .I say trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “D” and that stands for digital broadcast signals.

That’s right. Digital broadcast is trouble. It might not be as bad as the game of pool was in River City, but it certainly gets us some calls and occasional criticism from our customers. These calls are because of signal interruptions on cable channels carrying broadcast stations in Louisville and Nashville. We did not cause these problems and solutions are particularly vexing and expensive. While we think we have explained this matter ad nauseum in the past, we keep getting questions about it so we are going to try once again. Here goes.

If you have been watching a program which originates at a broadcast station in Louisville or Nashville, and the picture freezes, pixilates (falls apart into something resembling puzzle pieces), has interruptions to the sound, has episodes where people’s lips and the sound are not in synch, or the picture just goes away and is replaced by a blue screen with the words “no signal”, you suffer from a malady much worse than Restless Leg Syndrome. You are experiencing analog-to-digital-conversion-syndrome (ADCS). However, neither Merck nor Pfizer has a pill, of any color, which will cure ADCS. It is one of the great failures of the American pharmaceutical industry.

To better understand this disease, we must first make sure everyone understands just what “analog” and “digital” mean. Up until about three years ago all transmission of television signals from stations that broadcast to people with an antennae, as well as to cable operators with a very big antenna, was done via analog transmission. Analog simply means real, measurable, or continuously variable. Hmmm, that might not be clear enough. How about this? If you still have a watch that has a bunch of little springs and cogs and gears in it that rotate and whir about resulting
in a big hand and a little hand telling you what time it is, you have an analog watch. It gives you the time by knowing how far to move those hands in a minute. Similarly, analog broadcast signals carried moving pictures by constantly modulating certain frequencies that were sent out over the airwaves to be picked up by an antenna and tuned by a television set. Okay? Analog was a great way to send out television signals. While never perfect, analog signals carried for a long way and that helped places like Glasgow to get news and programming from far away places like Nashville
and Louisville. As weather or other interference occurred in the analog world, the signal would degrade some, our customers might have seen a bit more noise in the picture, but it would still be watchable. As you can see in the graphic, Glasgow was never in the “good” range of analog transmission from those cities, but we made it work pretty well because analog signals are very resilient and tunable over a wide range of power levels. But, as technology and greed marched along together over the last several years, other companies like cell phone providers and other wireless systems began to lobby Congress and the FCC to force the broadcasters to use new digital broadcast technology. In theory this new technology is far superior and uses a lot less of
the broadcast spectrum (that means a lot of the old analog frequencies would be available for more cell phones and other things with buttons, screens and irritating noises that keep you from being able to enjoy any peace and quiet anywhere). Therefore, as is often the case, while you were not watching Congress and the FCC agreed with the lobbyists and decided that all television broadcasters should abandon the old analog technology and replace it with new-fangled digital
transmission technology. I think maybe they all got a free cell phone for making this decision.

Earlier we described analog as being measurable or real, but digital is quite different. Let’s go back to the watches. If your watch is not analog it is digital. With a digital watch there are no moving parts - no wheels, springs, or gears. A digital watch just has a little processor in it running a program. The program counts little electronic pulses and converts that calculation into lighting up some little diodes to display something like “1:27". Digital television transmission is like that as well. It has no “moving parts”. Instead, it sends you a staggering flow of 0's and 1's that our receiver
here interprets, and performs calculations on. Instead of telling a bunch of LED’s to display “1:27", it converts the calculations into near perfect pictures and colors that appear on your television set and allow you to see that those Desperate Housewives have quite the colorful life. Now you know all there is to know about analog and digital transmission. Don’t you feel technical now?

Now let’s look again to the graphic because there is one more thing to know. Digital signals do not carry as far as analog signals. In addition, digital signal does not slowly deteriorate and remain watchable as the signal gets weaker. Since the digital signal is not “real” but only a long series of binary numbers that need to be computed by our receiver, when some of those numbers come up missing because of weak signal, the picture does not compute so it just falls apart and stops. Depending on your television, this results in a frozen picture, a puzzle mess, or a blue screen. The
power levels and the frequencies allotted for digital transmission have one clear result; they were never intended to carry more than about 50 miles! As you can see on the graphic, we are outside of the intended range of digital transmission from both Louisville and Nashville. This is not our fault because we did not pick where Glasgow is located. Further, we did not pick the digital transmission standards. Very “smart” people in Washington D.C. did that.

Okay, now you know about analog and digital and you have a map to show that we are in the digital hinterlands. You also know that none of this is our fault. All that is left for us to discuss is the fact that you expect us to fix it anyway, right? Well we have been working on that.

Like everything else, this matter comes down to money. There are ways to improve upon this situation. We can install an antenna closer to the broadcast stations and bring the signal to Glasgow via fiber. We can also purchase the signals from certain satellite vendors for delivery
to our receiving dish. But most of these solutions spend tons of money for very little additional signal improvement. With this economy, that just seems unwise.

That is how we explained it nearly four years ago. Since then we have done a ton of expensive work improving our antennae and getting some signals delivered via fiber. Also, retransmission consent changes in 2008 changed to menu of stations we are trying to deliver. We made decisions based upon what stations we thought we could deliver and the capacity of our antennae systems to deliver them with reliability. Most of those decisions have been good. The slate of Louisville and Nashville stations we are able to deliver in High Definition is long and the troubles have been very few. BUT, none of this is perfect. We can accept 98% reliability for stations like WHAS and WSMV or we can choose to drop them entirely if they are not 100% perfect all of the time. We would be interested in hearing from our customers if they feel we should react to this dilemma differently.

Monday, November 16, 2009

UPDATE on UK Men's Basketball Games

We have learned that things are not nearly as dark as we thought they were going to be for some of the UK Men’s basketball games. In a previous blog post we listed about six games that were exclusive to Fox Sports South that we assumed would be unavailable to our customers due to our steadfast refusal to pay Fox’s ransom demands for these games. However, things have improved over the last few days!

Tonight’s game, which features the debut of super freshman John Wall, will be live on EPB channel 15, WMYO, at 6:00 p.m. with a preview starting at 5:30 p.m., and there is more good news! Here is an updated schedule of the next few games and when they will appear on our cable system:

11-19-09 vs. Sam Houston St. 9:00 p.m. EPB Channel 12

11-21-09 vs. Rider 4:00 p.m. EPB Channel 12

11-30-09 vs. Asheville still looks like we might not get this one

12-23-09 vs. Long Beach State 4:00 p.m. EPB Channel 12

When we know more about any of these important games, we will let you know right here on the Red, Blue & Green blog!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If We Work Really Hard, Maybe We Can Stop This

It is now clear that many folks were waving red flags about the rampant greed and corruption that finally laid waste to our economy over a year ago. Those folks were ignored, but surely we have learned to pay more attention to similar warnings. Surely we are ready to take action against greed before it creates another tsunami which threatens to wash us off our island. If so, I have a red flag to wave.

It has now been a year since we were forced to start paying broadcasters like WBKO for the privilege of putting up an antenna and picking up the signals they send through the air over our homes and businesses (and the last time I checked, that air belongs to us not the broadcast television stations). The people of Glasgow will pay about $150,000 this year to receive broadcast programming which had been free since the beginning of broadcast television. In fact, this year we will pay nearly $40,000 of that to just one broadcast station, WBKO in Bowling Green! We have two more years left on the three year agreements which created these ransom payments.

Every time I sign one of those checks I am enraged, but I see even more ominous clouds on the horizon. Forget about waving a red flag. Our local outdoor warning sirens should be going off to warn us of the likely merger of Comcast Cable and NBC Universal! Comcast is the largest cable system operator in the country serving about 25 million cable customers. That means they are already a financial behemoth and a darling of our friendly “money changers” in the temple of Wall Street. They also already own a significant number of the channels they carry on those cable systems. Those services include: E! Entertainment, Style Network, Versus, The Golf Channel, and G4. While significant, these are not the most popular channels on any cable system. So, if they jacked up the rates on these channels, no one would feel particularly put upon if their cable operator simply dropped them. Such would not be the case if Comcast is allowed to merge with NBC Universal. Then they would control services like: Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports, Oxygen, and USA Networks. Comcast would also own Universal Pictures, which releases several blockbuster movies per year. It would also own stakes in web sites including Hulu and iVillage.

So, at the end of this contract period, since Glasgow EPB is municipally owned and not on the list of companies that will be getting a Christmas card from Comcast, what might it cost us to carry NBC broadcast stations? How much might we have to pay to see the Olympics or anything else on NBC Sports? A few years ago Stephen Colbert did a great “news” piece on AT&T and how it was finally broken up by our government’s anti-trust regulators, only to slowly reassemble itself so that it is bigger and more monopolistic than ever. Click here to see that hilarious video. Comcast is threatening to rival AT&T in its size and economic power. It is amazing to me that so many of us are still railing against “big government regulation” when it is small and weak government oversight that resulted in the economic mess we are in today and continues to promise more of the same if they allow themselves to be run over and out maneuvered by companies like Comcast. Do we need more mergers like this one or do we need less cooperation between giant companies like Comcast and NBC Universal?

I say we need to stop this merger in its tracks.