Learn about Cable Television

Cable television is on the cutting edge of communications technology.  The changes now sweeping America’s telecommunications industry-which promise to revolutionize how we access entertainment and information-clearly point to a continued leadership role for the cable industry and its vast communications network, now available to 97% of American homes.  By the end of this decade, cable will have invested at least $14 billion in new technology to offer world-class voice, video, data and wireless communications services.

Cable systems typically transmit their television signal through a combination of fiber optics and coaxial cable-a high capacity "broad band" capable of carrying at least 1,000 times more information than the ordinary copper twisted pair telephone wire and 100 times faster than ISDN (integrated services digital network) phone lines.  The wiring of America by the cable industry has resulted in the country’s single largest private construction project since World War II.

The cable industry’s existing coaxial cable network, coupled with its continued development and deployment of advanced technologies, positions it to lead the way on America’s "information superhighway."

Fiber optic technology uses very thin strands of glass to carry light signals generated by laser transmitters.  Fiber optic cable can carry television signals for long distances without losing much power.  Fiber offers cable systems the opportunity to greatly increase channel capacity, improve system reliability, reduce operating costs and improve signal quality.  About half of all cable customers are now served through fiber-enhanced cable lines.  In 1995, cable increased fiber deployment by nearly 20 percent of 1994; telephone companies, in contrast, increased their deployment by only three and half percent.  Virtually all cable companies are now installing fiber, and most systems will be upgraded within the next few years-creating the most advanced and multifaceted communications network in the world.

The average cable television system currently offers over 40 channels of programming.  Consumer demand for even more variety and choice in television has led to the development of technology called "digital compression," which will significantly expand channel capacity.

Compressing the normal video signal through digital transmission allows for more information to be transmitted over existing cable wires.  The primary benefit of digital compression will be for cable systems to offer subscribers additional choices, such as specialized niche programming, greatly expanded pay-per-view channels, interactive or two-way programming.

The marriage of computer software and hardware with the cable industry's high capacity distribution network will soon yield an astonishing family of entertainment and information services for consumers and business.  An important component of the new generation of digital services is the set-top converter box that will contain computer chips to store, navigate, manipulate and manage the profusion of information and entertainment options available to cable subscribers.

The advent of advanced digital and computer technology is setting the stage for a new era of interactive television.  The cable television industry is well-suited to deliver interactive programs and services, because its high-capacity network can move vast quantities of information quickly and can be upgraded to send signals to and from various points.

Most of cable's existing coaxial network is capable of two-way communications.  As technology progresses, cable subscribers will be able to conduct research from electronic encyclopedias that feature text, graphics, video and audio; select movies from thousands of titles available on demand; pay bills; enroll in distance learning courses; shop and make purchases at home; or play a video game with a friend across town.

Cable television systems currently  provide a high capacity, high speed broad band connection to homes, schools, and businesses through coaxial cable and fiber optic networks.  The addition of cable modem technology enables customers to access a wide range of multimedia content including graphics, audio, and video from all over the world at high rates of speed.

The cable television industry is branching out from its traditional role as an entertainment service industry into a high speed data service industry.  Cable television systems were originally designed as one-way, analog transmission system utilizing coaxial cable.  However, to support the recent growth in demand for Internet access and other two-way services, many cable companies are in the midst of upgrading their existing coaxial cable systems with fiber optic technology.   These hybrid fiber-coaxial, or HFC, networks allow cable systems to provide reliable of existing cable television services, as well as new services such as high speed data delivery and continuous, high speed access to the Internet.

Cable modems open the door for customers to enjoy a wide range of high-speed data services, all at speeds hundreds of times faster than traditional telephone modems.  Subscribers will be fully connected, 24 hours a day, to services without interfering with their existing cable television or telephone service.  Among the services supported by cable modem technology are:

  • Internet Access- providing electronic mail, chat groups, and access to the World Wide Web.  Cable's high speed access means images download faster, transforming Internet access from a waiting game to an efficient, robust experience.
  • Business Applications- interconnecting LANs or supporting collaborative work; transmission of large amounts of data from one site to another.
  • Telecommuting- enabling employees to work from home, yet access business files quickly and efficiently.
  • Education- allowing students to quickly access educational resources from around the world, making the Internet a vital tool to students and teachers, both in the classroom and at home.
  • Information Services- access to local shopping, data bases, weather maps, household bill paying services, etc.

The Cable industry's broad band network is uniquely suited to accessing the vast amounts of information available on the Internet.  Cable's network infrastructure can currently carry data over 1,000 times faster than the telephone companies twisted pair copper lines and 100 times faster than ISDN (integrated services digital network) telephone lines.  Access to the Internet and information service providers over cable lines provides customers with two primary benefits: speed and freedom.  The higher bandwidth of cable's fiber-coax lines provides faster data transmission speeds than traditional telephone lines, and the since access is provided over existing coaxial connections to customer's homes, the cable connection does not interfere with normal telephone activity.

Time to Transmit a Single 1 MB Graphic Image (Such as a high resolution color photograph)

Telephone Modem 28.8 kb Approximately 5 minutes
ISDN 64kbps Approximately 2 minutes
Cable Modem 10 mbps Approximately 1 second

Time to Transmit a 5 Mb Audio/Video Clip (Video Clip approximately 1.5 minutes long)

Telephone Modem 28.8 kbps Approximately 22 minutes
ISDN 64 kbps Approximately 10 minutes
Cable Modems 10 Mbps Approximately 4 seconds

[kbps = kilobits per second, Mbps= megabits per second]

The television industry has a long-standing, on-going commitment to education.   Through cable's state -of-the-art technology, quality programming, and education initiatives, the industry provides a range of learning resources to America's families and children.

Cable in the Classroom, founded in 1989, is the cornerstone of the cable industry's commitment to education.  It represents an investment of over $420 million by the cable industry to enhance the resources available to teachers, students and their schools for improving education.  To date, local cable systems have provided free cable hook-ups and free monthly service to 75,000 schools in all 50 states.   Cable networks provide teachers and students with more than 540 hours per month of educational, commercial free programming to compliment current curriculum.

The Family and Community Critical Viewing Project trains cable and PTA leaders nationwide in the elements of "critical viewing" and in conducting Taking Charge of Your TV workshops.  Many parents and educators in more than 36 states have participated in local workshops.  The goal of the project is to help families make informed choices about the TV programs they watch, and to improve the way they watch these programs.  The critical viewing workshops and materials offer concrete steps to help parents teach their children to be smarter, more critical TV viewers, and provide strategies to address parent's concerns about TV violence and commercialism.

The Taking Charge of Your TV  project is now complemented by a new video featuring Rosie O’Donnell.  The video, available free-of-charge through an 800-number, will broaden the reach of the critical viewing project, offering the program's fundamentals to families and organizations nationwide.

Cable's state-of-the-art technology has provided additional learning opportunities.  Cable systems across the country deliver instruction and learning opportunities from leading universities and other continuing education providers directly to the home.  Distance learning through cable also allows both rural and urban school districts to make better use of resources by enabling students from several schools to attend classes and interact with teachers via live television connections.   This allows schools to offer courses which otherwise may be prohibitively expensive, or for which strong enough demand may not exist within one school.  Today, students are afforded such opportunities as virtual "electronic field trips," where they have the chance to interact, in real-time via satellite along with experts on-location at the Berlin Wall, the rain forests of Costa Rica, the plains of Kenya, and many other exciting destinations.

[The above is an adaptation of information presented on the National Cable Television Associations Web site, WWW.NCTA.COM Additional information taken from educational resources published by Falcon Cable TV, Tele-Communications, Inc.]



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