Award Winning Blog

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Adventures in Cord Shaving

            Tired of paying Comcast slightly over $30 a month for 5 broadcast networks and little else, I embraced OTAR: over the air reception of television.  I built an antenna, ascended a learning curve and 90% of the time the signals arrive “free to air.”

            I do not recommend such self-help for anyone living in an area considered fringe at best.  Penn State is centrally located “in the middle of nowhere” with only one local broadcast television signal translator.  The other stations lie from 20-75 miles away, typically separated by a line of mountains.  Digital signals appear crystal clear, but can evaporate for no apparent reason.  Actually, the reasons include a slight reduction in signal strength, weather conditions, or a change in antenna angle, a risk anytime a cold front comes barreling from the northwest.

            Prior antenna designs did not work for me, because they combined VHF and UHF reception, something I considered necessary because I need to receive channels 3, 6 and 10.  Wrong!  With repacking of television spectrum to accommodate more wireless broadband, broadcasters agreed to change frequencies for a significant cut in auction revenues paid by cellular radio carriers.  I did not know that VHF broadcasters get to keep their low channel designations even though television sets (and antennas) typically need to tune to much higher UHF channels.  Software using the Program and System Information Protocol instructs television sets on which frequency to receive a broadcast television signal and what possibly different channel to display.  Who knew?

            In any event, I needed to build a UHF only antenna optimized for tuning in the higher and more volatile frequencies.  I made the plunge without the anticipated “win back” attempts from Comcast.  I guess they gladly parted company with a low value customer knowing that I still need their 6-18 MHz of broadband access spectrum.

            If only Comcast priced its basic tier at a fair price, I would have stayed.  Instead, they regularly raised the base rate, then added a broadcast channel retransmission fee, then started to charge for the first set top box and also snuck in a few “shipping, handling, shop fee” type charges.  They could have offered a few more channels as well.  Is it profit maximizing for Comcast to include CSPAN-1 in the basic tier, but not CSPAN 2 and 3?  They could have reduced the per channel cost below $4 a month!