Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


March 31, 2014

New York Yankees fans will be upset if Service Electric Cablevision drops the YES Network, the cable channel that carries all of the Bronx Bombers' games.

Timothy M. Trently, division manager for Service Electric Cablevision, said if no agreement is reached with the network it will be removed at 11:59 p.m. Monday, when the company's contract with YES expires. "It would be removed due to unreasonably high programming costs," he said. "As in all of our negotiations, our main goal is to hold down costs and retain our ability to deliver an affordable video experience to our customers." However, Trently said if negotiations are completed successfully past the expiration of the current agreement, the channel could be added back to the cable system.

CBS Sports Network and TCN (The Comcast Network) are being added to the Classic Cable tier, and CBS On Demand will be added as a free service to all customers with a digital converter box or a digital video recorder. "Please note, over 30 regular-season Yankees games will still be available for viewing on various networks, as well as all Yankees postseason games," Trently said. WQMY, a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton My Network station, carries various Sunday games of the Yankees during the regular baseball season, which begins next week. TCN - a separate but affiliated network of Comcast - will appear on channel 73 on the cable system.

Trently noted TCN also carries Phillies' games. Some games have been added to the regular season schedule, but Service Electric customers in Hazleton and Mahanoy City - which share the same schedule and channel lineup - will not see an increase in their cable fees. Trently said Service Electric has an extensive sports offering both on Classic Cable - the first 100 channels - and the digital tier. "We have the NFL Network, Root Sports, the Big 10 Network, the Golf Channel, Fox Sports 1, four ESPN networks, Comcast and now TCN," Trently said. "In the digital tier, we have Horse Racing TV, the NFL Red Zone and two more Big 10 networks." Hazleton Standard-Speaker

At decade's end, the trusty landline telephone could be nothing more than a memory.

Telecom giants AT&T and Verizon Communications are lobbying states, one by one, to hang up the plain, old telephone system, what the industry now calls POTS--the copper-wired landline phone system whose reliability and reach made the U.S. a communications powerhouse for more than 100 years.

Last week, Michigan joined more than 30 other states that have passed or are considering laws that restrict state-government oversight and eliminate "carrier of last resort" mandates, effectively ending the universal-service guarantee that gives every U.S. resident access to local-exchange wireline telephone service, the POTS. (There are no federal regulations guaranteeing Internet access.) The two providers want to lay the crumbling POTS to rest and replace it with Internet Protocol-based systems that use the same wired and wireless broadband networks that bring Web access, cable programming and, yes, even your telephone service, into your homes. You may think you have a traditional landline because your home phone plugs into a jack, but if you have bundled your phone with Internet and cable services, you're making calls over an IP network, not twisted copper wires.

California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio are among states that agree telecom resources would be better redirected into modern telephone technologies and innovations, and will kill copper-based technologies in the next three years or so. Kentucky and Colorado are weighing similar laws, which force people to go wireless whether they want to or not. In Mantoloking, N.J., Verizon wants to replace the landline system, which Hurricane Sandy wiped out, with its wireless Voice Link. That would make it the first entire town to go landline-less, a move that isn't sitting well with all residents.

New Jersey's legislature, worried about losing data applications such as credit-card processing and alarm systems that wireless systems can't handle, wants a one-year moratorium to block that switch. It will vote on the measure this month. (Verizon tried a similar change in Fire Island, N.Y., when its copper lines were destroyed, but public opposition persuaded Verizon to install fiber-optic cable.) It's no surprise that landlines are unfashionable, considering many of us already have or are preparing to ditch them. More than 38% of adults and 45.5% of children live in households without a landline telephone, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means two in every five U.S. homes, or 39%, are wireless, up from 26.6% three years ago. Moreover, a scant 8.5% of households relied only on a landline, while 2% were phoneless in 2013.

Metropolitan residents have few worries about the end of landlines. High-speed wire and wireless services are abundant and work well, despite occasional dropped calls. Those living in rural areas, where cell towers are few and 4G capability limited, face different issues. Safety is one of them. Call 911 from a landline and the emergency operator pinpoints your exact address, down to the apartment number. Wireless phones lack those specifics, and even with GPS navigation aren't as precise. Matters are worse in rural and even suburban areas that signals don't reach, sometimes because they're blocked by buildings or the landscape.

That's of concern to the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees all forms of U.S. communications services. Universal access is a tenet of its mission, and, despite the state-by-state degradation of the mandate, it's unwilling to let telecom companies simply drop geographically undesirable customers. Telecom firms need FCC approval to ax services completely, and can't do so unless there is a viable competitor to pick up the slack. Last year AT&T asked to turn off its legacy network, which could create gaps in universal coverage and will force people off the grid to get a wireless provider. AT&T and the FCC will soon begin trials to explore life without copper-wired landlines. Consumers will voluntarily test IP-connected networks and their impact on towns like Carbon Hills, Ala., population 2,071. They want to know how households will reach 911, how small businesses will connect to customers, how people with medical-monitoring devices or home alarms know they will always be connected to a reliable network, and what the costs are. "We cannot be a nation of opportunity without networks of opportunity," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in unveiling the plan. "This pilot program will help us learn how fiber might be deployed where it is not now deployed...and how new forms of wireless can reach deep into the interior of rural America." Wall Street Journal

There is no doubt that times have changed in recent decades when it comes to telecommunications. We've gone from an era of rotary dial telephones affixed to walls, to any number of cellphone and Internet-based options. And Colorado's regulatory scheme ought to keep up with those changes so businesses can thrive and offer consumers cutting-edge technology.

That's what a package of telecom bills pending in the state legislature is designed to do. The major point of controversy is whether the bills protect vulnerable consumers, too. We think these five bills, which encompass issues that have been debated repeatedly over the last several years, mostly strike the right balance. The bills would update telecom definitions, boost broadband development in unserved areas, update telecommunications definitions, exempt certain Internet-based services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) from Public Utilities Commission (PUC) oversight and provide limited state sales- and use-tax exemptions.

Critics such as AARP worry about the potential for service degradation or large price hikes if the PUC were no longer in a position to regulate basic landline phone service. That's a serious concern, and neither of those outcomes would be tolerable. But the bills include an important "claw back" provision that would give the PUC an avenue to re-regulate areas if problems arose. For instance, if there were substantial and sustained price hikes in an area of significant size, the PUC could hold hearings and decide to reimpose regulations. It's an important provision that must remain meaningful in the legislation to ensure consumers have an avenue for redress. If these bills become law, state policymakers should closely monitor how deregulation plays out to ensure the vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, continue to have good, affordable basic phone service. Meanwhile, these bills would help create a more a level playing field as telecom companies continue to modernize their offerings in Colorado. Denver Post editorial