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BC Cable Options Held Back By Cost, Not Lack Of Support

Heights Editor

Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

The Boston College cable television system was implemented 16 years ago as an academic endeavor, but since 1995 the program has continued to improve as both an information and entertainment venue for students.

“There was a bunch of folks against even doing it,” said Joseph Harrington, director of Network Services. “But they brought a whole pool of folks together and it was IT people, faculty and staff, the Jesuit community, and students, and they came up with the initial lineup, which has changed slightly over the past few years. The intent at that time was to make it an academic system, not an entertainment system. So if you look at the channel lineup you can see that it’s really geared toward learning information, diversity of views in types of the channels and stuff like that. And they tried to keep the cost down as much as they possibly could.”
BC cable, which has a contract with Comcast, carries around 68 channels that include six BC-specific channels for campus programming. Channels such as AMC, National Geographic, NESN, MSNBC, and Fox News have also been added in recent years, but as students continue to request more channels and more HD channels, the ability to expand has become more difficult.

Every year a student group will meet with Network Services to discuss expanding the lineup or swapping channels, but cost and efficiency have prevented much change.

“A lot of times the channel the students might be requesting are [part of] a bundled channel,” Harrington said. “So in other words, they want X, but you’ve got to get X, Y, Z, W, V, and N as part of the bundle, otherwise you can’t just get the one. And typically when they’re bundled it’s huge per-unit costs to do it. So typically we haven’t been able to do those kinds of things.”
Some popular requests from students have been Fox Soccer and ESPN HD. Fox Soccer, which many international students request, would only be possible through one of the bundled packages, and ESPN HD would require an expensive encryption system.

Two years ago, Network Services worked with Comcast to get all of the local channels upgraded to HD, which required replacing the equipment both on the head end at Comcast and at BC to make that functionality possible. ESPN HD would require studio driven encryption, which would only be possible through set-top boxes in dorm rooms, totaling around $700 apiece. Network Services is looking for cheaper alternatives, but the technology is not yet there for a reasonable price.

“We know the technology is going to catch up,” Harrington said. “Smart TVs are coming out with the encryption built right in to the TV, but then the expectation is every student is going to go out and buy an HD-capable smart TV—and how realistic is that? Then you’d have the haves and the have-nots. We’re trying to take a slow approach and we’re trying to do it the right way.”
The cheaper smart TVs that come with HD encryption cost over $1,000. It would be possible to get around the set-top box issue by running programs over the IP Network via computers.

“That’s not satisfying for everybody,” Harrington said. “How do we do that in the dining halls? Or how do we do that in the big classrooms and stuff? So we can do it, but it’s not optimal for everybody.”
Students also already have access to live sporting events on ESPN3.com and television or news programs on multiple websites through their computers. In the end, Harrington expects that at some point Comcast and BC will get a digital head end that can do all of the encryption at a smaller cost, or a new technology will be able to do the encryption over the IP Network.

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