Time Warner Cable will shift local community access channels across the Northeast from analog to a digital-only format next week -- a move that could leave some Northern Berkshire residents without access to programming provided by Northern Berkshire Community Television Corporation (NBCTC) and Willinet.
The biggest impact will be on subscribers without digital subscriptions who own televisions over 10 years old. Without a digital adapter, local community, governmental and educational programming won't be available for those customers.
"I'm very concerned about the impact on people with older televisions, especially our senior citizens -- they're the group that probably watches those channels the most, especially our government meetings," state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, said in a recent interview.
The conversion, which will happen Tuesday, July 23, won't impact Time Warner subscribers who already have a digital set-top box, digital adapter or CableCARD, as the community access stations will remain intact on channels 15, 16 and 17.
Subscribers who don't have a digital package but have newer televisions -- a set equipped with an internal QAM tuner that picks up digital and high-definition channels -- will need to rescan their channel options as the community access channels will now be found on 116.1 (community programming), 116.2 (educational programming) and 116.3 (government programming).
According to Joli Plucknette-Farmen, a spokeswoman for Time Warner, only 25 percent of the cable company's subscribers have analog-only service and will be impacted by the digital-only format.
To accommodate those individuals and households, Time Warner is offering digital adapters free of charge to subscribers through Sept. 23. Those who order the adapters will be able to use them for free until Dec. 31, 2014. Beginning in 2015, the digital adapters will cost 99 cents per month. To order a digital adapter, go to www.twc.com/ digitaladapter or call 855-286-1736. Digital adapters can also be picked up at the Time Warner payment center in North Adams at 225 Hodges Cross Road.
"By moving these channels to a digital-only format, were able to free up part of the bandwidth capacity in our network, allowing us to bring customers faster Internet service, more high definition (HD) channels and new features in the future," Plucknette-Farmen said. "One analog channel in our network takes up as much bandwidth as three HD [digital] channels or 14 standard definition [digital] channels."
According to Time Warner's website, the cable company is undergoing a "digital conversion initiative" -- a move that will shift all of its programming to a digital format by the end of the year.
NBCTC Executive Director David Fabiano said the conversion won't have an impact on the local community access stations themselves, save for individuals being able to locate the channels on their televisions.
"It's really all on the viewer," he said. I'm anticipating a lot of phone calls next week. I think there will be a bit of a learning curve for our viewers who don't have the Time Warner equipment or a digital-ready television."
Fabiano said that while Time Warner reports that 75 percent of its customers already have digital subscriptions, those households could still be impacted by next week's switch over.
"The TV in the living room may be connected to a digital converter or adapter, but there could be other televisions that are just hooked directly to cable [from the wall] which will require a digital adapter," he said.
To help local residents understand the conversion and what the different types of adapters are, Cariddi, along with City Councilor Marie Harpin and Michael Putnam, chairman of the NBCTC board of directors, have filmed a 60 minute episode of "Something You Should Know" dedicated to educating the public about the types of adapters and converters available. The show will air at 2:30, on Tuesday, July 23, on channel 17.