Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Service Switcheroo

Lauren Weinstein of PFIR asks are you being cheated by digital cable?

The channel numbers you see when you get digital cable bear little resemblance to the frequency at which a signal is transmitted. The mapping may even vary from customer to customer. Some channels are broadcast both in digital and analog form. This lets the cable company pull a shell game.

What Weinstein reports is that if he used a TWC box, then tuning to the History Channel resulted in a digital signal. When using his TiVo HD system with a cableCARD, tuning to the same "digital" channel 212 resulted in receiving the analog channel 39 instead. TWC was charging him for digital service but providing him analog signals despite the presence of the higher-quality alternative.

Cable company representatives of course attempt to blame the TiVo or the cableCARDs (they hate dealing with either), but the kind of deterministic channel mapping that is occurring cannot be the result of a failure or breakdown at subscriber equipment -- it has to be programmed that way via the cable company headend. And whether this situation is the result of purposeful planning or cable company confusion isn't really terrible interesting either. If you're unable to get anyone in authority to admit that such channel switcheroos are going on, and can't get them resolved, you're simply not getting what you're paying for, and (to quote "Plan 9 From Outer Space"): "Somebody's responsible!"

Now let's think about network neutrality. When internet service providers install traffic-shaping rules (whether for good or for ill) they may cause analogous degradation in service. How can an end user even determine that it is taking place? Maybe Google is loading slowly today because it's Google's fault, or a backbone problem, or my home LAN's problem. The ISP is certainly not going to accept the blame when you call up to complain. What could we do to make the Internet's behavior more transparent to end-users, in the same way that Weinstein can use his TiVo's diagnostic menu to tell whether he's getting digital or analog?
Tags: cable, geek, networking, policy
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