Cablevision Systems, the nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, said today that it will no longer offer its analog expanded basic tier by the end of the year as it migrates to an all-digital environment.

Cablevision said it would become the first major cable provider in the nation to sell expanded basic service only in digital format to new customers. Existing analog customers and all-digital customers will continue to receive available analog simulcasts on television sets connected directly to cable.

Like other cable operators, including Comcast and RCN, Cablevision is phasing out its analog tiers of service in order to reclaim bandwidth that can be used to offer more high-definition (HD) channels, additional video-on-demand (VOD) offerings, including HD VOD, and other services and technologies.

Approximately 5 percent of the company’s cable television customers today receive analog expanded basic service, and those customers will continue to receive this limited service on a grandfathered basis without any required action.

More than 91 percent of Cablevision’s 3.1 million television customers today receive digital service, the highest rate of digital adoption in the country.

“The transition to digital television is something that is happening across our nation, because digital is a far superior format for delivering television service, both in terms of quality and capacity,” said John Trierweiler, Cablevision’s senior vice president of product management. “The vast majority of our customers have already embraced this standard, and Cablevision’s move away from analog expanded basic for new customers is the next logical step in an evolution that will deliver clear benefits, including more programming, particularly HD, and additional choice.”

A spokesman for Cablevision said the company has gone all-digital in its Bronx service area and in part of Brooklyn in New York City, as well as in some areas of New Jersey, including Newark, Hudson County and Paterson.

Cable operators can reclaim between 250 MHz and 300 MHz in each system that goes all-digital. If a typical cable system has 79 analog channels and the operator decides to move 59 of those channels to digital, while perhaps leaving 20 or so as a life-line analog service for some select markets, it would reclaim 354 MHz.

Given 354 MHz of reclaimed spectrum in the example above – and the fact that on average, 10 standard-definition (SD) MPEG-2 digital programs can be inserted into one 6MHz slot – this yields enough bandwidth for nearly 590 channels.

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