LIHUE — Cable television on Kauai will be changing to digital broadcasting this summer.
The planned conversion is expected to increase Spectrum’s bandwidth but may affect local programming across the state, especially on Kauai.
“They just use the name Spectrum so that not everybody is aware of their heinous past and their disreputable corporate background,” said J Robertson at Hoike Kauai Community Television, a public education and government access organization that offers training, equipment and a channel for locally produced programming.
Under the branding of Spectrum, Charter Communications is in the process of upgrading its cable television, internet and phone services.
“As technology continues to evolve, the products and services of tomorrow will increasingly rely on faster broadband connections,” said Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications chairman and CEO, in a December press release. “Charter’s world-class network is best-positioned to deliver the bandwidth and capacity needed to meet these growing demands.”
The telecommunications giant, headquartered in Connecticut, is the second-largest cable company in the U.S., with 94,000 employees serving 26 million customers across 41 states. The cable operator is converting from analog on Hawaii to offer more high-definition, pay-per-view and video-on-demand channels, while increasing broadband internet speeds.
“We’re completing the all-digital launch island by island; Kauai is scheduled for late summer,” said Pamela Yu, senior manager of communications for Charter. “We’ll begin communicating with customers there about what they need to do and will have more information to share in the coming months about new HD channels and On Demand choices that will be available to customers on Kauai.”
No customer action is required at this time, according to the company.
“They’re not getting rid of local programming, they want to move the channel to a place where no one will find it,” said Robertson. “They’re going to move those stations into what we call ‘Digital Siberia.’”
Hoike’s local Channel 6 is planned for another number in the 120s, while local public-access and government-access channels may move from 53 and 54 next to the paid sports programs in the 180s.
“What they are essentially trying to do is diminish and marginalize community voices and community efforts,” Robertson said. “This is a serious attack on local origination and all local production of video and communication and information services.”
Kauai’s public channel airs inspirational programs, arts and entertainment, topics of cultural diversity, issues that deal with sovereignty, and many more local topics and events.
“It’s going to be a significant burden on the viewers,” Robertson said, “and they’re going to have to get a digital box to receive the signal now.”
Charter will offer free converter boxes at first, then there will be a cost to get the basic service, which previously required no additional charges.
Feb. 6 was the target date for beginning Oahu’s conversion, but there were deficiencies in notices to subscribers. So the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, as the regulatory authority, informed Charter it had to correct its mistakes.
“They’re doing this to the public education and access all across the nation,” Robertson said. “There’s a huge uproar in Pittsburgh right now. Vermont, Michigan and Wisconsin have all been under attack. … In Vermont, they’re moving the channels to 1,300.”
A 1984 federal law gave local franchising entities the authority to require Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) Access Channels. However, Hawaii doesn’t have a specific state law that prevents the so-called “channel slamming” addressed by the Cable Advisory Committee.
“They have a virtual monopoly for cable services in the state,” Robertson said. “They can charge whatever they want, do whatever they want, and we are helpless to defend ourselves, because the state refuses to stand up for the people.”
Senate Bill 36, introduced by Ross Baker, is up for public hearing this week. The bill has already gone to the Consumer Protection Committee. If it passes through the Legislature, a state law could be put in place prior to Charter enacting the changes.
“By eliminating the analog band, they’re opening up a tremendous revenue stream for the cable operator,” Robertson said. “And they’re not based here, this is not money that stays in Hawaii. This is money that’s shipped off immediately.”
In 2016, Charter acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks for a combined $71.4 billion, making it the third-largest pay television service in the nation.