SANTA CRUZ -- Local cable customers are about to see changes that would require many to install adapters in order to follow the latest developments with the zombie apocalypse, hijinx in Pawnee or their favorite reality shows.
The changes are being brought about by Comcast's switch to all-digital signals. Company representatives say they are following an industrywide trend of ditching analog feeds to free up bandwidth for more channels, added high-definition signals and faster Internet speeds.
"Every cable company all over the country is doing this," said Comcast spokesman Bryan Byrd.
But the switch is likely to be a headache for consumers with older televisions that plug cable directly into their sets. Those who currently have cable boxes attached to all TVs in their homes are unaffected.
Letters are going out to customers this week alerting them to the change, which begins March 28 when six cable channels flip to digital-only. Most of the Bay Area has already made the switch.
Would it cost anything? That depends.
Comcast is providing customers with up to three easy-to-install adapters free of charge. A letter hitting mailboxes this week mentions an $8 charge for added adapters, but Byrd said customers who wait until March 28 can get the first three at no cost.
Many customers with newer or high-definition televisions already have digital tuners built into their sets. But they too will soon need an adapter, once Comcast begins scrambling its signals.
In October, the Federal Communication Commission lifted a prohibition on encrypted cable signals. The move not only allows cable companies to better prevent piracy, but it lets them track how their signals are utilized throughout the home.
In making the move, the FCC did enact some consumer protections aimed at protecting innovation by third parties such as Boxee, a startup which makes software and hardware that fuses cable, Internet video and even social media.
That also allows Comcast to begin encrypting signals without modifying its franchise agreement with the county. Due to special legislation, Santa Cruz County has the only standalone franchise agreement left in the state.
But that deal expires in summer 2014, at which point local cable customers would be under a statewide agreement. The expiration of the deal could also lead to increased services -- and rates -- for local customers.
The first channels to switch over are Lifetime, Animal Planet, The Weather Channel, History, Travel and Galavision.
Sometime in late spring, Comcast plans to switch the rest of its basic package to digital, including standards such as CNN, ESPN, TNT, AMC and more. That would be followed in the summer with signals for local broadcast stations.
Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude
At a glance
After March 28, Comcast customers looking for more information may call 877-634-4434 or go to www.comcast.com/digitalnow. At that time, free self-install kits can be mailed or picked one up in person at Comcast's offices, 123 Doyle St., Santa Cruz.