Time Warner Cable’s recent conversion from analog to digital transmission over part of its system has compromised the technical quality of programming over Woodstock’s public access television outlet, Channel 23, while also inconveniencing some of the channel’s viewers, according to a producer at the local station.
Randi Steele, who produces a weekly program that airs on Channel 23, said in a July 31 interview that she and other local producers had encountered audio and visual problems, including a transmission delay of five to seven seconds, since the switch was made to an all-digital format for public access programming. The changeover occurred on or about July 23, the date that Time Warner Cable (TWC) had announced a month earlier in a letter to its customers.
“They have brought us down in quality very close to the level of a Skype channel,” said Steele of the cable company. “The delay is screwing up producers. There is a large sentiment among public access producers to take legal action.”
The recent change in format has required some viewers of local Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) programming to modify their equipment or to find Channel 23 at a different location. Customers with an analog or a digital TV with a “direct connect” —that is, no converter or digital adapter — must either rescan their tuners to receive PEG programming on Channel 20.2 (also known as 20-2) or obtain a digital adapter and remote control from TWC.
The company is offering the adapters free of charge through the end of 2014 and for a fee of 99 cents a month thereafter. No action is required of cable customers with digitally equipped TV sets, who can continue to view Channel 23 at its standard setting. [TWC customers can obtain a digital adapter by visiting the website twc.com/digitaladapter; by calling, toll free, 855-286-1736; or by picking up an adapter at a TWC store, such as the facility at 142 Schwenk Drive in Kingston.]
Steele said that several local cable customers with analog-only equipment had been unable to view Channel 23 at its usual location. “The channel comes up blank. These people are not interested in getting adapters. They must now go to Channel 20.2. When they get a signal, it’s degraded,” said Steele, adding that the format change has imposed a hardship on older viewers in particular, who tend to be less technologically sophisticated than others.
TWC officials have maintained that the purpose of the format change is to improve the company’s management of its bandwidth. “These changes free our capacity to offer additional programming and features requested by our customers. Digital delivery is much more efficient than analog,” said Joli Plucknette-Farmen, the cable company’s Rochester-based public relations manager for the Northeast, in a recent interview.
Brenda Parks, who is TWC’s director of government relations, based in Liberty, cited the same rationale in a response to a July 10 letter from Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber, who protested the format switch and the attendant change in the Channel 23 setting on behalf of the Town Board and the local public access community. Wilber’s letter followed a presentation by Steele at the Town Board’s July 9 meeting.
Steele took issue with the cable company’s position, deeming the format change unnecessary and selective. “Time Warner Cable is still providing commercial channels in analog format. They should do the same for public access channels,” she said. Steele also criticized Wilber for failing to alert the public at an earlier date about the impending change. A TWC representative had initially informed Wilber of the planned format switch and its implications in a May 31 letter, but the supervisor took no apparent action until July 10.
“She’s right,” Wilber acknowledged in a recent interview. “I’ll take the rap on this thing.” The supervisor urged any Woodstock residents who are having problems accessing Channel 23 to contact him at his office for assistance. Steele suggested that local cable customers who object to the format change call either Parks (845-695-9625) or a representative of the Public Service Commission in Albany (518-473-5258).
Wilber credited Steele for her expertise and perseverance in the matter. “I want to express my appreciation for Randi Steele’s concern with this issue and her efforts to bring it to the public’s attention,” he said.