Cable, satellite, FiOS--there are lots of options when it comes to getting the television channels you love. Cable refers to analog or digital output conveyed through fiber optic or coaxial cables. FiOS refers exclusively to cable obtained through fiber optic lines via subscription service with Verizon. Satellite accepts signals from an orbiting transmitter via a "dish" and converter box.
Cable is the most popular method of obtaining subscriber-based television services in the United States. Eighty-three percent of U.S. households rely on cable for television programming, according to the 2004 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Annual Cable Price Survey.
Co-axial or fiber optic cables are used to convey radio frequency signals from a cable provider to the consumer's home. The cable is connected to a cable converter box, which is then connected to a television. Consumers pay cable providers, such as Comcast or TimeWarner, a fee based on the number of channels they wish to receive. Access to both basic and premium channels is available, with premium channels such as HBO and Cinemax costing more.
Other services, such as Internet access and phone, are also available via cable. Bundling services allows consumers to purchase several options from one cable provider, usually at a discount compared to purchasing the services separately from other providers.
FiOS is not a category separate from cable, but rather a type of cable service that uses fiber optic cables to carry the television signal to the consumer's home. Offered by Verizon, FiOS was not widely available in late 2009. However, those areas served by Verizon FiOS have access to bundled services such as television packages, high-speed Internet options, analog phone service and, in limited areas, digital voice phone service.
Digital Cable Conversion
More than one-third of Americans use over-the-air broadcast for their television service. Prior to the June 12, 2009 national conversion from analog to digital television, consumers were able to access local channels for free as long as they had a television with an antenna. With the passing of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, television stations were required to convert all analog broadcasts to a digital format. Individuals were provided with $40 vouchers to purchase digital converter boxes in order to receive the digital signals.
Lawmakers argued that converting to digital broadcasts would eliminate signal interference and free up more bandwidth for services such as multicasting, which allows several channels of programming to be broadcast simultaneously.
Cable Providers and Satellite
Most consumers have only one or two options when it comes to cable providers, which tend to vary by region. This is because cable companies are responsible for laying and maintaining the cable wiring within a particular area. Having multiple companies laying and maintaining multiple identical cables would create undue work for the cable providers.
However, traditional cable companies have lost some market share to satellite cable providers such as DirecTV. Direct-to-home satellite television emerged as an option in 1994 and provides digital television broadcasts. Although satellite cable companies typically do not offer bundled services, they are often a less-expensive alternative to traditional cable companies for television subscription services. In some areas where cable television service is limited or unavailable, satellite may be the only tenable subscription television service.
The Future of Cable
The period since 2000 has seen the emergence of FiOS and satellite options for cable television consumers. With the nationwide conversion to digital television, it is possible that "a la carte" subscription services might be introduced. This would allow consumers to pick individual channels rather than channel packages. There has been some momentum toward this option, including passage of the Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007.
- Photo Credit Arj: Wikipedia.com, Dodd M: Wikipedia.com
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