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Comcast Slashes Chicago Analog Tier

On July 1, Comcast plans to eliminate the analog transmission of the 38 channels on its expanded-basic cable tier throughout the Windy City, freeing up a broad chunk of bandwidth for new services.

The change will force an unknown number of subscribers to upgrade to digital set-tops. However, Comcast will still offer basic analog service with 34 channels in Chicago. That tier will include local broadcast and public, education and government (PEG) channels, as well as The Weather Channel, C-SPAN, TV Guide Channel, QVC and a few others.

Rich Ruggiero, Comcast’s vice president of communications and public affairs for the Chicago region, said the standard cable offering in two of the city’s five operating regions is already digital. “This aligns the service offering across the entire city,” he added.

Ruggiero declined to specify how many Chicago subscribers would be required to get new boxes but said it’s a “distinct minority.” Existing subscribers of analog expanded-basic cable will need to install a Motorola DCT-700 set-top to get the complete 80-plus-channel lineup; Comcast said it will not charge an additional fee or raise rates for current analog customers.

The move will free up a significant tract of bandwidth in Comcast’s Chicago networks. Eliminating the simulcast of 38 analog channels will return 228 megahertz of spectrum, or enough to transmit 380 standard-definition digital channels.

“There’s an opportunity for us down the road to do things like offer more high-definition programming, higher-speed Internet and on-demand,” Ruggiero said. “But the thrust of this is being able to offer the same service citywide.”

Comcast has 1.8 million subscribers in Chicago and the surrounding suburban areas. Once it completes moving to all-digital in the city, Comcast expects to make the same change to suburban systems.

According to Comcast officials, eliminating the expanded analog tier in Chicago is unrelated to the Federal Communications Commission’s requirement that set-top boxes deployed after July 1 provide a separable security mechanism.  

The MSO filed for a waiver to the so-called integration ban for three boxes -- including the DCT-700 -- but the FCC’s media bureau in January denied that request. Comcast has requested that all five FCC commissioners review that ruling.