Mediacom, Bresnan To Take Some Small Systems All-Digital

Mediacom Communications and Bresnan Communications will convert some of their small rural systems to all-digital by the February 2009 digital TV transition date, in agreements with the Federal Communications Commission that will allow those systems to deploy set-top boxes with integrated security features.

Mediacom will convert 29 systems in Arizona, California, Kentucky and Mississippi, while Bresnan has pledged to eliminate the analog channels in its 625-Megahertz system in Gillette, Wyo.

Mediacom in January petitioned the FCC for an emergency waiver to the so-called “integrated set-top ban” for those systems, arguing that it may have to shut down some isolated systems otherwise.

Bresnan, meanwhile, in a December filing to the FCC said it could triple its high-definition lineup in 2008, to offer 50 HD channels, if it could eliminate the analog tier in the Gillette system. However, the operator said, it would only be able to do this if allowed to deploy lower-cost integrated set-tops.

The FCC, in an order dated April 16, granted those waiver requests.

Since July 2007, the FCC has required most cable operators to deploy set-tops with removable CableCards. By agreeing to move to all-digital operation, the Mediacom and Bresnan systems will be allowed to use lower-cost integrated set-tops.

Video customers in those all-digital systems will need a digital set-top to receive programming. Both operators told the FCC they will notify analog-only customers of the transition by mid-June and ensure that they have sufficient inventory of digital set-tops for those customers by then.

Mediacom vice president of legal affairs Tom Larsen said all-digital operation will allow those systems—each of which run at less than 552 MHz—to enhance our service offerings in these systems.

“We will immediately be able to expand the number of HD channels. The extra bandwidth will give us the freedom to offer more programming tailored to the local market,” Larsen said.

For example, Mediacom will be able to add more Spanish programming in its Arizona systems. Down the road, Larsen added, these systems will have the capacity to move to DOCSIS 3.0.

Larsen said Mediacom is still “finalizing our transition plan for these systems, but I anticipate that we will make a certain number of free low-cost boxes available to each household we serve during the transition period.”

In Gillette, Wyo., Bresnan will eliminate 63 analog TV channels and reclaim a net of 250 MHz of spectrum. The company has not announced how it will use the freed-up spectrum or the details of how it will distribute the Motorola DCT700 digital set-tops to existing analog customers.