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The Fayetteville Observer, N.C., Michael Futch Column

August 5, 2008

By Michael Futch, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.

Aug. 5–What’s the problem with Time Warner Cable’s high-definition service with digital cable?

A Time Warner customer in Dayton, Ohio, called it “the New Coke of cable systems.” I like to think of it as Nehi because it leaves me knee high in aggravation.

When I’m shelling out $107.95 a month for the company’s Digi Pic 1000 combination package, which includes the digital and HD service and an HD box, I have little tolerance for the flaws in a system that compromises television enjoyment.

The system, at least at my home in eastern Cumberland County, locks up repeatedly when I’m trying to change channels with the Time Warner digital remote. This especially holds true when I’m flipping around and enter the On-Demand cluster of channels.

The system will regularly freeze. At that point, you’ll likely have to reboot the cable box to get it working properly again.

When changing channels with the remote, a delay in the switch can test patience and raise blood pressure. You also have to punch in the numbers of the channel you’re changing or the remote won’t accept them.

As for the additional features of the Navigator “guide,” those are slow in response, sometimes taking up to 15 seconds to load the data.

That, said Time Warner’s Pat Hourigan, is specific to certain box types.

All in all, it’s unacceptable in this intense age of cable and satellite television competition for the consumer dollar.

Melissa Buscher is director of media relations for Time Warner Cable. By e-mail, she writes:

“Rolling out the new guide is like any new technology. There are bugs that need to be worked out, and we are doing that. The new guide will have enhanced search and browsing features that enable a better customer experience. Beyond that it serves as the platform from which we will launch many more HD channels.”

During a follow-up phone call on Monday, Buscher said “some fixes” are forthcoming over the next couple of weeks. “Part of it is we’re trying to install new technology — $50million in new technology,” she said. “There were some bugs in that new technology.”

Hourigan, vice president of network operations for the company’s Carolina region, said the system’s software is developed in-house. “We like to believe when we’ve released a candidate to the field, it has no bugs,” he said. “Occasionally, you’ll find bugs in the software, and we’ll fix the bugs as soon as we can define them.”

Buscher said the company is listening to customers and is aware of the issues some subscribers are experiencing. “We apologize for any inconvenience,” she wrote in her e-mail, “and promise that we will continue to work hard to fix the issues.”

While on the subject of HD, Time Warner promotes its cable platform as “the place for HD programming with dozens of high definition channels available.” Yet, the current 32 selections of HD fare fail to match the satellite competition.

Direct TV advertises 95 national high-definition channels and, according to its Web site, The Dish Network carries more than 90 in its lineup.

In Time Warner’s defense, subscribers are not charged extra to receive HD programming once they have paid for the digital tier of channels.

Additional HD channels will be added to the lineup, Buscher said. “We hope by the fourth quarter with more to come in 2009,” she said.

Among the upcoming HD choices, she named Discovery, Animal Planet, The History Channel, Disney, CNN, The Science Channel, ABC Family and ESPN News.

Last month, the Capitol Broadcasting Co. said that WRAL-TV has added a second live Doppler radar to provide better severe weather coverage in the Fayetteville area.

Since 1997, the Raleigh-based CBS station has served Fayetteville and the Sandhills with a live Doppler radar just outside the state capital. The new live Fayetteville Doppler provides “unprecedented weather coverage” for Cumberland, Robeson, Moore, Lee, Hoke and Harnett counties, according to a station news release.

Doppler information is valuable for meteorologists, especially in severe weather. Doppler radar gives them a much better picture of what is occurring in the atmosphere.

WRAL-TV is the only television station in North Carolina with two live Doppler radars on the air and online, the news release said.

WRAL.com provides round-the-clock access to radar images from the new Fayetteville Doppler. Web users can choose county-specific still and animated views from Cumberland, Lee, Harnett and Moore counties.

Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at futchm@fayobserver.com or 486-3529.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.

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