Comcast digital upgrade offers more TV channels, faster Internet

Comcast equipment at the company's service center in the Martha's Vineyard Airport Business Park. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

With the first phase of Comcast’s upgrade to an all-digital network now underway, Martha’s Vineyard customers should stay tuned for more channels and programming options to come.

This month the Island’s cable television provider began a phased approach to deliver all of its analog channels, including the broadcast channels that are offered through cable service, in a digital format.

As a Comcast fact sheet explains, the upgrade is necessary to keep up with a digital world. Television programming, TV sets, consumer electronics, music, movies, and even broadcast television have gone digital.

“Delivering channels via digital format is a more efficient use of the existing cable infrastructure,” the fact sheet says. By reallocating analog channels to digital delivery, Comcast can triple the space on its network. One analog channel occupies as much space as 10 digital channels or three high-definition (HD) channels.

“Folks will see the high-definition channel lineup double to more than one hundred when the project’s completed,” Comcast cable spokesman Marc Goodman said in a recent phone conversation with The Times. “There will be more viewing choices, and we’ll lay the foundation for even faster Internet speeds, up to 105 megabits per second and beyond for residential customers. And today, Island businesses can get up to 10 gigabits per second with our Metro Ethernet service.”

Going digital

The change to an all-digital platform requires Basic or Standard analog service customers, who receive a signal directly to their television sets, to install a digital adapter device. Otherwise, they may lose their current channels once the upgrade is complete.

Comcast already delivers a fully digital signal to most of its Martha’s Vineyard customer base. Over the last several months, the company has taken steps to provide customers who have not yet upgraded with the necessary equipment for up to three televisions, at no additional cost.

On August 10, thirteen channels previously broadcast in an analog format, such as The Weather Channel, AMC, Lifetime, TNT, the Cartoon Network, Animal Planet, and Turner Classic Movies, were converted to digital. On August 24, another twenty high-definition channels and two 3-D channels were added.

Comcast started its digital enhancement project on the Island in April. Multiple notices have been sent out since then to explain the digital upgrade and equipment requirements.

“It’s also worth pointing out that customers that had standard cable service before, with the cable plugged into the back of their TV, once they add a digital set-top box, they will have digital-quality picture and sound for the first time, and have access to 10 additional channels,” Mr. Goodman said.

In addition to channel changes, Comcast also recently introduced a new interactive cable television guide for Martha’s Vineyard customers.

“It is designed to offer faster access to Comcast’s On-Demand service, which now has more than 25,000 programs available at any time of day or night, and the vast majority of those are available at no additional cost,” Mr. Goodman said. “Free movies, content from the major networks, and more than 250 TV series are available on demand, many of them the next day after they air or the same week.”

New technology ahead

The digital network enhancement paves the way for the roll-out of Xfinity®, the new brand name for Comcast’s technology platform and products.

“With more high-definition and On Demand choices, faster Internet speed, and advanced features such as the Xfinity TV app[lication], and, which provides access to programs, TV shows and movies online for subscribers, Comcast is really entering a new era of innovation and change,” Mr. Goodman said.

In response to the growing demand for “apps” (application software) for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, Mr. Goodman said Comcast is developing ones that will allow access to an abbreviated version of On-Demand programming and the cable television guide.

“In the coming months, folks on the Island will be able to also use their apps to record programs on their DVR [digital video recorder] from wherever they are,” he said. “You could be at work or somewhere on the mainland, and have control of your TV experience through those apps.”

Keeping up with America

Although Islanders may sometimes wonder if they are last in line for technology upgrades by virtue of geography, Mr. Goodman assures they are not.

“Our strategy as a company has always been to roll out new technologies across our entire network,” he said. “As a result of that approach, people on Martha’s Vineyard have access to the same Internet speeds as people in Boston on the same fiber-rich network. And we are committed to keeping our customers on Martha’s Vineyard on the forefront of the latest technology.”

Another sensitive issue for Islanders is cost and the question of whether they pay a lot more for cable service than customers on the mainland.

Mr. Goodman said the majority of Comcast customers utilize promotion packages that offer cable television, Internet and phone services at a good price, and that pricing is the same in any Comcast market, including Martha’s Vineyard. Cable television prices may vary slightly on Martha’s Vineyard, depending on the level of service, he added.

Comcast has 147,000 miles of fiber in its network across the country. Its fiber on the mainland connects with a leased cable from NSTAR that is controlled by Comcast and connected to the Island, Mr. Goodman explained. From there the Comcast fiber stretches to streets and neighborhoods the cable company serves on the Island. A hybrid fiber/coax network, a cable network that includes a combination of fiber-optic and coaxial cable, connects to actual homes and businesses on the Island.

Although there is no formal cable service available on Chappaquiddick right now, Comcast officials say they are evaluating that possibility.

Comcast’s 10-year cable television contract with Island towns expired on June 30. Negotiations for a new contract are currently underway.

Customers who currently subscribe to Comcast’s Basic or Standard analog service may pick up a simple self-install kit to hook up a new digital device on their own at Comcast’s local service center in the Airport Business Park or order one by calling 1-877-634-4434 or visiting Professional installation also is available for the cost of a technician visit.