TV goes dark

I suppose it’s finally time to go digital.

At least, if I want to continue to watch local government meetings on the TV in my home office.

When I flipped on Channel 2, the city of Las Vegas’ television channel, KCLV, and Channel 4, county station CCTV, on Friday morning all I saw were messages that those channels had gone digital. Sadly, my TV — an old analog model plugged directly into the cable outlet in the wall — had not.

As of Monday, analog TVs were no longer receiving the local-government channels, which air City Council and County Commission meetings along with other programs. To get them, you either have to upgrade to a new TV with a built-in digital tuner or purchase a digital cable box from Cox Communications. (Customers of CenturyLink, Cox’s main competitor, won’t notice any changes.)

(Full disclosure: My wife works at a public relations agency that counts Cox among its clients.)

Steve Schorr, vice president of Cox, says the move is part of a federal mandate to broadcast exclusively using digital channels, which take up far less bandwidth than their analog predecessors.

“Let’s face it, we’re in a digital world,” Schorr said. “Eventually, there will be no analog left.”

That means eventually everyone will need either a new TV (they’ve been made with built-in digital tuners since about 2009) or a digital converter box from Cox. The company’s most basic service starts at $19.95 per month, plus $5.50 for the box.

Using the box, however, is easier: Those with digital service should find the city and county government channels right where they’re supposed to be, at Channel 2 and Channel 4. Without a box — but with a newer digital TV — you have to scan the channels until you find the city at 89.5 and the county at 89.13.

City and county officials say they recognize the need for the change, but wish it had been publicized more before it happened. Complaints about losing the analog channels started rolling in on Tuesday.

(People love their local government meetings. And news junkies, including us journalists, rely on the stations for footage when we can’t actually get down to City Hall or the county Government Center.)

“None of us were really prepared,” said David Riggleman, director of communications for the city of Las Vegas. That’s true despite the fact that Cox delayed the change repeatedly between 2009 and this month.

You’d think that the city and county would have more leverage, given that they granted franchises to Cox in the first place. But in 2007, the Legislature unanimously passed a law that yanked franchise authority from local governments and gave it to the state. (The industry argued at the time that striking individual bargains with each local government — there are six in Clark County alone — was burdensome.)

Local governments retained their ability to charge franchise fees — a maximum of 5 percent of gross revenues. Schorr says Cox pays $21 million annually in Clark County.

But they lost their ability to object if the cable company wants to change their channel number. In 2013, Channel 2 expects to move to Channel 102 on the Cox lineup, and Channel 4 to 104.

So what’s the big deal? Well, a certain percentage of Cox customers have decided either they didn’t want to get a new TV or cable box, or simply couldn’t afford to do so. Those folks — with their older analog TVs and cable wires — are plain out of luck if they want to see local government in action. Someday soon, those TVs will be useful only as museum pieces.

So, I guess I’ll have to replace my venerable old home office TV and go digital at last. As Cox’s Steve Schorr says, it’s a digital world now.

 

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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