BELFAST, Maine — Ned Lightner of Belfast Community Television was busy Monday afternoon, getting ready to shoot a homespun music video public service announcement to encourage people to clean up after their dogs in the city’s parks.
But he also was occupied by juggling phone calls with Time Warner Cable, which hosts his public access cable channel and most other public, educational and government access programming in Maine. The cable company has notified its viewers in Maine and throughout the Northeast that beginning July 23, it will make these channels available only in digital format. That means viewers will need special digital equipment to view them, so it’s likely that many folks will turn on their television sets July 23 and be disappointed when they can’t tune in, Lightner said.
“Making it more challenging to get the signal is something I worry about,” he said Monday. “You get so much junk mail and things from Time Warner that you might not have noticed this change.”
Joli Plucknette-Farmen, Northeast public relations manager for Time Warner Cable, said that there are a variety of ways cable customers can continue to view public information and government access channels. The change will only affect those channels and not other cable programming.
“About 75 percent of our customers are already digital TV customers and won’t be affected,” she said.
Cable viewers who have a digital cable-ready television also shouldn’t notice any interruption in programming. However, viewers who have neither a digital cable box or a digital cable-ready television will need to take action in order to keep watching these channels. Plucknette-Farmen said that they will need a digital adapter, which the company is offering to ship to viewers for free.
People can order a digital adapter online at twc.com/digitaladapter, by calling 1-855-286-1736 or by visiting a Time Warner Cable store.
“These changes free up capacity in our network,” she said. “They should allow us to bring our customers faster Internet speeds, more high-definition programming and new features in the future. Those are the things our customers ask for the most from us.”
She said that analog cable channels use a lot of bandwidth capacity, eating up as much as three high definition channels or 14 standard definition channels.
“We selected channels that would help free up the most capacity,” she said. “It’s not related to ratings.”
But Lightner suspects that in many communities, public, educational and government channels might not have a diversity of programming or be that interesting to watch. That’s not the case in Belfast, which has 2,000 cable subscribers and public access TV shows featuring local businesses, cool places, things to do and much more. He said that tugboat captain John Worth recently asked him to do a piece about commercial shipping traffic in the harbor.
So Lightner took his video camera aboard the Fournier Tractor tugboat earlier this month as it helped the Maine Maritime Academy training vessel State of Maine dock in Waldo County for the show “Somewhere in Waldo County.”
“It really connects people with their hometowns,” Lightner said of BCTV. “People actually watch our government and public access channels in Belfast.”