When cable television became widespread in New York City around 1980, it revolutionized the way we watch TV by bringing a dizzying selection of programming to our living rooms. With seemingly endless choices, the terms "couch potato" and "channel surfing" were coined. Today, however, the TV-viewing public has even more choices to make as a result of the 1996 government deregulation of the telecommunications and cable TV markets. As more and more companies enter the market, and technology improves, residents have many new options for internet, telephone and television access. From cable to fiber optics to satellites, telecommunications delivery is moving quickly into the 21st century. This is the time for co-op and condo boards and their residents to become acquainted with their options.
An Evolving Market
In the days before cable, most TVs were wired to a master antenna on the roof of the building, picking up a few local stations. But with cable, a multitude of channels were wired right into the TV, offering perfect reception and more choice. The first cable TV franchises appeared in Manhattan in 1970 through Sterling in Southern Manhattan and Teleprompter in Northern Manhattan. Time Warner was created in 1989 when Warner and Time, Inc. merged. Today there are a total of nine cable franchises in New York City, seven of which are controlled by Time Warner and affiliates covering about one-third of Brooklyn and all of Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. The other two are controlled by Cablevision in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
The 1996 deregulation of the industry allowed other companies to enter the market, breaking the monopoly held by cable franchise owners. The first company to attack the New York City market in a big way, offering non-franchised cable service, is Residential Communications Network (RCN), based in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded by chairman David McCourt, RCN offers customers all three core services of the multimedia age: cable TV, voice telephony and access to the Internet. Because it has modest overheads, RCN's prices are generally five to ten percent lower than the competition and as much as 30 percent lower if customers choose all three services. As of June 1998, RCN was reported to have barely 719,000 connections, but the firm is aggressively seeking new business in various residential markets from Boston to Washington, D.C. including New York City.
In the past year several other companies have stormed the market, offering TV viewers the satellite option. According to Helen Chee, marketing manager at SkyView, a nationwide provider of digital satellite TV systems with offices in New York City and throughout the country, satellite TV technology has existed in the United States for about 15 years, but the versatile mini-dishes, such as those used by SkyView, came to the market only about five years ago. They accomplish much the same purpose as the huge rotating satellite dish systems that can pick up 300 channels, but are smaller, less expensive and easier to install and maintain. Rather than picking up 300 channels, they offer about half as many, but still far more than cable delivers. SkyView, a division of Ethnic American Broadcasting, a Fort Lee, New Jersey-based firm, has been installing and maintaining digital satellite TV systems for five years. Ethnic American Broadcasting is an acquirer and producer of ethnic programming.
TV Programming Via Satellite
According to Chee, "SkyView can install a single satellite dish on the roof that receives a digital signal from two satellites, offering viewers access to more than 175 channels from DIRECTV and USSB. Our systems, which include a master antenna, also bring in local channels, as well as channels originating in eight foreign languages. So residents now really have more viewing choices available to them than ever before."