Comcast Expands Project Cavalry In Northern N.J.

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Comcast will retire analog cable channels in several northern New Jersey systems this summer, as it continues the rollout of Project Cavalry, its initiative to convert to mostly digital-video distribution.

The operator's Plainfield, N.J., system will move 14 analog channels in its expanded basic lineup to digital-only, including MSNBC, Cartoon Network, FX and Lifetime, beginning July 28. Comcast will to Union, Long Hill and the Meadowlands area later this summer.

All told, Comcast will be eliminating the analog standard expanded basic channels -- generally, channels in the 26 through 99 range - while continuing to deliver limited basic channels in analog, which include local broadcast stations like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS, shopping channels, Univision and various public access and government channels.

To receive the digital channels, Comcast in New Jersey is providing customers who currently subscribe to standard expanded basic up to three pieces of equipment for no extra monthly cost: one digital set-top box and two digital terminal adapters (DTAs).

There are no installation costs if customers pick up and install the devices themselves, while Comcast is charging $18 for a technician to perform the install. Additional DTAs are available for $1.99 per month; based on level of service, additional set-top boxes cost $5 to $9 per month.

Comcast spokesman Jeff Alexander said the moves are part of the larger conversion to all-digital operation in the Freedom Region, which includes Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs, northern Delaware and New Jersey.

"We've started to deploy devices in the large majority of the greater Philadelphia area as well as in North and South Jersey," he wrote in an e-mail.

The project involves retiring 40 to 50 analog channels, freeing up more bandwidth for high-definition channels, video-on-demand and DOCSIS 3.0 services.

Project Cavalry will cost Comcast about $1 billion total, or less than 10% "of what a physical rebuild would cost us historically," chief operating officer Steve Burke said on the company's first-quarter earnings call in May. The company expects to complete the all-digital conversion nationwide by the end of 2010.

In New Jersey, Comcast is touting the upgrade to digital to customers under the rubric "World of More," advertising the benefits of digital cable, including video-on-demand and other features. The MSO is also explaining that the upgrade will allow delivery of more HD channels and expanded VOD selection.