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Cable television is a system of providing television to consumers via radio frequency signals transmitted to televisions through fixed optical fibers or coaxial cables as opposed to the over-the-air method used in traditional television broadcasting (via radio waves) in which a television antenna is required. FM radio programming, high-speed Internet, telephony, and similar non-television services may also be provided.

The abbreviation CATV is often used to mean "Cable TV". It originally stood for Community Antenna Television, from cable television's origins in 1948: in areas where over-the-air reception was limited by distance from tranmitters or mountainous terrain, large "community antennas" were constructed, and cable was run from them to individual homes.

It is most commonplace in North America, Europe, Australia and East Asia, though it is present in many other countries, mainly in South America and the Middle East. Cable TV has had little success in Africa, as it is not cost-effective to lay cables in sparsely populated areas. So-called "wireless cable" or microwave-based systems are used instead.

Cable television deployments

Asia

Mongolia

There are several cable tv providers in Mongolia. The main three are "SuperVision", "Hiimori" and "Sansar CATV". All three cover approximately 10 national channels and 40 foreign channels, such as CNN, BBC, NHK. Among them "SuperVision" is known for its superior quality and gives much more interesting channels, such as National Geographic and Discovery. "Sansar" and "Hiimori" and other smaller companies fill their channel list with Chinese and Indian channels.

Maldives

There over 100 cable TV operators across the country. As the population of the Maldives is separated across around 200 inhabited islands, there is a cable TV operator for nearly every island. Media Net Pvt. Ltd. is the country's largest cable TV operator. Media Net is a Male-based cable TV operator that provides cable and MMDS service to five islands near Male. Media Net holds the license of distribution for 41 channels and distributes channels to nearly all the operators of the country. In Maldives, cable TV subscribers can get most premium channels available in Asia.

Latin America

Panamá

From 2000, Cable TV adoption has been impulsed with the fusion of Cable Onda and Corporación Medcom. Several companies compete for the Panamanian market, such as CTV, Cable Onda, Cablevision, and others. Cable Onda is the largest. The penetration of CableTV in Panamá is at 40%.

Dominican Republic

The cable television in the Dominican Republic are provided by a variety of companies. These companies offer both English and Spanish language television, plus a range of channels in other languages, high definition channels, Pay-per-view movies and events, sports packages and premium movies channels such as HBO, Playboy TV, Cinecanal, etc. Also, the channels are from not only the Dominican Republic, but also the United States and Europe. In the Dominican Republic television spectrum there are 46 in VHF and UHF channels free-to-air channels. The free of charge channels programming consists mainly of locally produced entertainment shows, news, and comedy shows; and foreign sit-comes, soap operas, movies, cartoons, and sports programs.

The main service provider in the Dominican Republic is Telecable from Tricom. Aster is concentrated in Santo Domingo, but is expanding its service throughout the Dominican Republic. There are also new companies using new technologies that are expanding quickly such as Claro TV (IPTV), Wind Telecom(MMDS) and SKY(Satellite TV).

Europe

Ireland

Cable television is the most common system for distributing multi-channel television in Ireland. With more than 40 year of history and extensive networks of both wired and "wireless" cable, Ireland is amongst the most cabled countries in Europe. Forty percent of Irish homes received cable television in September 2006. The figure dropped slightly in the early years of the 21st century due to the increased popularity of satellite reception, notably Sky, but has stabilised recently.

Virgin Media owns the cable television licence for Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, UPC Ireland, which trades under the brand name Chorus NTL, is by far the largest cable and MMDS operator, owning all of the state's MMDS licences and almost all of the state's cable TV operators. UPC offers analogue and digital cable television services in cities and towns throughout the country (with the exception of Cork, where the network is digital-only). It offers MMDS services in rural areas. In areas previously served by NTL, the network is digital-only, while Chorus areas still have both analgoue and digital services. Other than UPC, the only other operator providing analogue and digital cable is Casey Cablevision, which operates inDungarvanmarker, County Waterfordmarker. There also exists a small number of analogue-only cable networks such as the Longfordmarker service Crossan Cable.

United Kingdom

When the infant BBC Television service was started in 1932, Rediffusion, which had supplied cable radio services since 1928, started providing "Pipe TV" to its customers who had difficulties tuning into the weak TV broadcast signal.

Suspended during World War II, the BBC service was re-established in June 1946, and had only one transmitter, at Alexandra Palacemarker, which served the London area. From the end of 1949, new transmitters were steadily opened to serve other major conurbations, and then smaller areas of population. The areas on the fringes of the transmitter coverage provided an opportunity for Rediffusion and other commercial companies to expand cable systems to enlarge the viewing audience for the one BBC television channel which then existed. The first was in Gloucester in 1950 and the process gathered pace over the next few years, especially after a second television channel, ITV, was launched in 1955 to compete with the BBC. By the late 1970s, two and a half million British homes received their television service via cable.

By law, these cable systems were restricted to the relay of the public broadcast channels, which meant that as the transmitter network became more comprehensive the incentive to subscribe to cable was reduced and they began to lose customers. In 1982, a radical liberalisation of the law on cable was proposed by the Information Technology Advisory Panel , for the sake of promoting a new generation of broadband cable systems leading to the wired society. After setting up and receiving the conclusions of the Hunt Inquiry into Cable Expansion and Broadcasting Policy, the Government decided to proceed with liberalisation and two pieces of legislation: the Cable and Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, were enacted in 1984.

The result was that cable systems were permitted to carry as many new television channels as they liked, as well as providing a telephone service and interactive services of many kinds (as since made familiar by the Internet). To maintain the momentum of the perceived commercial interest in this new investment opportunity, in 1983 the Government itself granted eleven interim franchises for new broadband systems each covering a community of up to around 100,000 homes, but the competitive franchising process was otherwise left to the new regulatory body, the Cable Authority, which took on its powers from 1 January 1985.

The franchising process proceeded steadily, but the actual construction of new systems was slow, as doubts about an adequate payback from the substantial investment persisted. By the end of 1990 almost 15 million homes had been included in franchised areas, but only 828,000 of these had been passed by broadband cable and only 149,000 were actually subscribing. Thereafter, however, construction accelerated and take-up steadily improved.

The first new television channels launched for carriage on cable systems (going live in March 1984) were Sky Channel, Screensport, Music Box and TEN - the Movie Channel. Others followed, some were merged or closed down, but the range expanded. A similar flux was seen among the operators of cable systems: franchises were granted to a host of different companies, but a process of consolidation saw the growth of large multiple system operators, until by early in the 2000s virtually the whole industry was in the hands of two companies, NTL and Telewest.

In 2005 it was announced that NTL and Telewest would merge, after a period of co-operation in the preceding few years. This merger was completed on 3 March 2006 with the company being named ntl Incorporated. For the time being the two brand names and services were marketed separately. However, following NTL's acquisition of Virgin Mobile, the NTL and Telewest services were rebranded Virgin Media on 2007-02-08 creating a single cable operator covering more than 95% of the UK cable market.

There are a small number of other surviving cable television companies in the UK outside of NTL including WightCable (Isle of Wightmarker) and Smallworld (Ayrshiremarker, Carlislemarker and Lancashiremarker).

Cable TV faces intense competition from British Sky Broadcasting's Sky Digital satellite television service. Most channels are carried on both platforms. However, cable often lacks "interactive" features (e.g. text services, and extra video-screens), especially on BSkyB owned channels, and the satellite platform lacks services requiring high degrees of two-way communication, such as true video on demand.

However, subscription-funded digital terrestrial television proved less of a competitive threat. The first system, ITV Digital, went into liquidation in 2002. Top Up TV later replaced it, however this service is shrinking as the DVB-T multiplex owners are finding free-to-air broadcasting more profitable.

Another potential source of competition in the future will be TV over broadband internet connections; this is known as IPTV. Some IPTV services are currently available in Londonmarker, while services operated in Hullmarker ceased in April 2006. As the speed and availability of broadband connections increase, more TV content can be delivered using protocols such as IPTV. However, its impact on the market is yet to be measured, as is consumer attitude toward watching TV programmes on computers instead of television sets. At the end of 2006, BT (the UK's former state owned monopoly phone company) started offering BT Vision, which combines the digital free-to-air standard Freeview through an aerial, and on-demand IPTV, delivered over a BT Broadband connection through the Vision set-top box (BT have chosen to deploy Microsoft's Mediaroom platform for this.)

North America

USA

Customer Surveys

A recent third party survey of citizens found approximately 62% of the respondents were very dissatisfied (along with another 25% who were dissatisfied) with the cost of cable television service. A majority of the respondents were satisfied with the friendliness and courtesy of customer service personnel, however, approximately 30% of the respondents rated the cable company's performance as poor. With regard to open-ended comments, respondents felt that the cost of the cable service was too high, a need for cable competition existed and the desire for a basic cable package offering was desired. Although respondents cited these critical issues, the local monopoly structure could be considered to preserve the status quo of poor customer service, limited product choices, no direct competition and uncontrollable annual cable TV price increases.

Relief for consumers is being created by state level a multi jurisdictional franchise and service process that will spur investment and competition; thus driving economic development sought by state and local government leaders.

The industry strongly lobbies against federal "family tier" and "a la carte cable television" bills that would give consumers the option to purchase individual channels rather than a broad tier of programming. These anti-consumer issues continue to garner attention from state governments, Congress and FCC Chairman Martin.

Other cable-based services

Coaxial cables are capable of bi-directional carriage of signals as well as the transmission of large amounts of data. Cable television signals use only a portion of the bandwidth available over coaxial lines. This leaves plenty of space available for other digital services such as cable internet, cable telephony and wireless services, using both unlicensed and licensed spectrum.

Broadband internet is achieved over coaxial cable by using cable modems to convert the network data into a type of digital signal that can be transferred over coaxial cable. One problem with some cable systems is the older amplifiers placed along the cable routes are unidirectional thus in order to allow for uploading of data the customer would need to use an analog telephone modem to provide for the upstream connection. This limited the upstream speed to 31.2k and prevented the always-on convenience broadband internet typically provides. Many large cable systems have upgraded or are upgrading their equipment to allow for bi-directional signals, thus allowing for greater upload speed and always-on convenience, though these upgrades are expensive.

In North America, Australia and Europe many cable operators have already introduced cable telephone service, which operates just like existing fixed line operators. This service involves installing a special telephone interface at the customer's premises that converts the analog signals from the customer's in-home wiring into a digital signal, which is then sent on the local loop (replacing the analog last mile, or POTS) to the company's switching center, where it is connected to the PSTN. The biggest obstacle to cable telephone service is the need for nearly 100% reliable service for emergency calls. One of the standards available for digital cable telephony, PacketCable, seems to be the most promising and able to work with the Quality of Service demands of traditional analog POTS service. The biggest advantage to digital cable telephone service is similar to the advantage of digital cable TV, namely that data can be compressed, resulting in much less bandwidth used than a dedicated analog circuit-switched service. Other advantages include better voice quality and integration to a VoIP network providing cheap or unlimited nationwide and international calling. Note that in many cases, digital cable telephone service is separate from cable modem service being offered by many cable companies and does not rely on IP traffic or the Internet.

Beginning in 2004 in the United States, the traditional cable television providers and traditional telecommunication companies increasingly compete in providing voice, video and data services to residences. The combination of TV, telephone and Internet access is commonly called triple play regardless of whether CATV or telcos offer it.

More recently, several US cable operators have begun offering wireless services to their subscribers. Most notably was the September 2008 launch of Optimum Wi-Fi by Cablevision. This service is made available, at no additional cost, to Optimum Broadband subscribers, and is available at over 14,000 locations across Long Island, NY, parts of NJ and CT. Cablevision has reported a double digit reduction in subscriber churn since launching Optimum Wi-Fi, even as Verizon has rolled out FiOS, a competitive residential broadband service in the Cablevision footprint. Other Tier 1 cable operators, including Comcast, have announced trials of a similar service in sections of the US Northeast.

Consumer issues

Using a cable service naturally requires that access to a cable network be installed at the customer location. Laying and maintaining this cable has costs. From the consumer's viewpoint, having a choice of who provides this service may be deemed desirable, however from a business viewpoint it may be undesirable as this would require multiple companies investing in laying many generally identical cables to the same location. Altogether that could mean greater costs, since there is more physical cable in existence. Therefore the idea of a natural monopoly may apply, whereby in most places only one cable provider is preferable (seemingly for all concerned). Competition in one place may therefore come in the form of terrestrial or satellite providers. As with all situations where competition is in some way limited, there is a potential for consumers to feel they are unfairly treated by the market. Market regulators may therefore tend to limit such consumer concerns by broadening the consumers choice from a single provider, for instance in expecting them to offer variously priced channel selections, improving service other times (for instance, by making use of technological progress) and measures such as providing free-for-all (public) TV.

See also



References

  1. Commission for Communications Regulation
  2. A short history of Rediffusion by Russ J Graham
  3. 'Cable Systems' HMSO 1982
  4. 'Cable Systems' Aldrich Archive, University of Brighton www.aldricharchive.com
  5. Cable Franchise: City of Fort Collins
  6. http://projects.publicintegrity.org/telecom/search/profile.aspx?id=M000018


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