Who Slew C-SPAN 2?

Don’t fret, cable news junkies. Just get digital. 
By Freda Moon

Earlier this month, Comcast cable subscribers across Connecticut who tuned in to C-SPAN 2 found a distressing color-block test pattern in place of old white men pounding gavels. The cable channel that once carried coverage of the Senate and BookTV’s conversations with authors was gone.

The space C-SPAN 2 took up has since been replaced with a slew of high-definition channels, including Discovery Channel HD, USA Network HD, The History Channel HD, A&E HD and the Food Network HD. The decision was made, according to Comcast spokeswoman Laura A. Brubaker, because of the “tremendous interest for more HD viewing choices.”

Like a lousy swimmer caught by the tides, C-SPAN 2 has been displaced—at least temporarily—by technological change. In recent years, cable TV has been in competition not only with broadcast television but satellite services and the internet. The response has been a widespread shift in the cable industry, which is rapidly moving from analog to digital transmission. Because analog channels consume such a large amount of space (or bandwidth), cable companies can offer far more “features” when channels are transmitted digitally—eight to 12 digital or up to three high-def channels for every analog channel. More channels make for happier customers.

Comcast will still offer C-SPAN 2 to customers who subscribe to digital cable, where there’s room for far more channels and better image quality. Comcast’s marketing emphasizes that digital cable costs the same amount as the company’s standard cable package (though digital comes with a $3.99 a month charge for the box and remote) and offers more buzz words to a feature-happy American public: Interactive programming! On-demand content! Digital music channels!

C-SPAN, which was created in 1979 as a private, non-profit, cable television industry-funded, public service station, has had ups and downs in its almost 30-year history. But because it’s a non-profit, the company is better able to weather changes that might threaten advertising-based media. While Comcast’s move means that C-SPAN no longer reaches as many homes as it once did—a blow to Connecticut’s Robert Byrd fans—C-SPAN itself will not suffer.

“Though we’re disappointed to be available at this point in fewer homes,” said C-SPAN Vice President Peter Kiley by phone from Washington, D.C., “we recognize that Comcast is entering the transition to digital and we’re pleased that they’re making it relatively easy for C-SPAN fans to get digital boxes and access to C-SPAN networks.”

For analog devotees or those too broke to dish out an additional $47.88 a year for digital cable, all three C-SPAN channels stream live on C-SPAN’s website (c-span.org). ¡Viva la media libre!

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