On the Fourth of July, RCN Corp. started switching some of its customers in the Boston area to all-digital programming.

The move to all digital will free up additional bandwidth for RCN, which will use the additional capacity to offer more standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) programming.

“This marks a very important step into the future for our Boston cable customers,” said RCN CEO and President Peter Aquino. “By reclaiming analog channels, we are able to expand the number of channels the company can offer, improve the picture quality and make the network easier to maintain. By going all digital, RCN will also be able to double its HD channels from about 40, which currently exceeds what our cable competitors offer, to more than 100, making us leaders in delivering HD and customized cable packages in an all-digital world.”

This project, which is known as “Analog Crush” and involves a 100 percent migration to all-digital video, started in Chicago. In Chicago, RCN reclaimed nearly 80 analog channels that were currently being duplicated with digital simulcast, or 400 MHz of video spectrum, for other uses. RCN said that in Chicago it now offers more HD and SD channels than other cable providers and is seeking additional content.

“We will be able to deliver up to 10 standard-def digital or 3 HD channels per analog channel, with better picture quality, and use some of the reclaimed spectrum to support growing high-speed data services demand,” Aquino said.

The conversion started in Dedham, Mass., on Friday and is scheduled to extend throughout RCN's 17-municipality footprint in the state over the next year.

Once customers are converted to all digital, Boston area customers will need at least a standard digital converter box or CableCard to view the new line-ups. HD and HD DVR converters can also be used and are necessary to view HD channels.

In order to make the transition to all digital, RCN’s customers have the following options:

    * RCN will mail them self-install instructions.

    * Customers can pick up boxes or CableCards up at select area locations. 

    * Customers can schedule an appointment to have boxes installed.

RCN also said that it’s increasing its VOD content, including more free content, and pay-on-demand programming.

Other cable operators are also making the transition to all digital, including Comcast, which started its all-digital migration in its Chicago footprint last year. Comcast is also using digital converter boxes for customers with analog TVs in order to convert to an all-digital environment.

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