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Juneau is one of the many communities across the nation getting a jump on the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television in 2009.
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Channels have been evaporating from GCI's local analog cable lineup in recent weeks - including MTV, VH1 and the Sci Fi Channel - in a build-up to the citywide digital conversion next month.
"We will be all digital in Juneau by the 17th of October," said Curtiss Clifton, corporate communications manager for GCI.
The conversion from analog to digital television has been on the television industry's agenda for years. Federal officials and industry insiders have been working to ease in the transition and have settled on an April 7, 2009, deadline to pull the plug on analog cable across the country.
"It's a more efficient way of sending programming to houses," Clifton said.
Analog cable uses changing frequencies and voltage levels to send pictures and sound over radio waves, which can create problematic interference because of degrading radio waves on the way to the television. Digital cable is said to virtually eliminate interference by using programming code in a more efficient manner to TV antennas, sending more information and producing higher quality picture and sound.
"It allows us to increase the amount of channels in the same amount of bandwidth," Clifton said.
GCI customers will be required to have a Digital TV by Oct. 7 , also known as DTV, or rent a digital converter box from the company for $5 a month to watch the premium channels.
The conversion from analog to digital is something that is going to happen anyway so it is a good time to make the transition in Juneau, Gavel to Gavel Alaska producer Randy Burton said. The public broadcasting show, which provides coverage of the Alaska Legislature, made the transition to the digital format last legislative session and secured its own channel. This allows it to provide more comprehensive coverage of state government, he said.
"It's just a change that is happening nationally and we're keeping up with the technology," Burton said.
KTOO has secured federal funding for digital translators for Lemon Creek and the Mendenhall Valley, he said. KTOO-DT is presently available in downtown Juneau and Douglas.
"This has been an expensive conversion for a lot of people and I think it is taking a lot longer than anyone would imagine it would," Burton said.
With customers demanding more and more programming, GCI needs to meet those demands and be prepared for the national conversion, Clifton said. Digital cable provides more programming options such as pay-per-view movies and digital video recording, he said.
"We can't provide it over an analog platform any more and we wouldn't want to because the demand for digital quality is so much greater," Clifton said.
Premium cable customers will be required to make the transition next month, but basic cable services will still be available on analog, including Gavel to Gavel Alaska, he said. Basic service offers the major stations one would get with regular television reception.