cable tv 

Poised on the nebulous edge of the 500 channel universe, humankind sits ready to channel surf where no one has channel surfed before. That electronic wave is about to crash onto the electronic beaches of Whistler, and as the cable television market in Whistler expands local cable suppliers are bracing for a TV battle. Whistler Cable TV is the only company offering cable service in the Whistler Valley, but that is going to change as the mini satellite dish revolution will bring the world of satellite TV to Whistler at a cost comparable to cable TV, says Neil Lauzon, owner of Mountain Direct, the company with the distribution rights for ExpressVu. ExpressVu is the Canadian equivalent of a system already available in the U.S., called Satellite Direct. According to Lauzon, the 24-inch dishes allow users to receive customized satellite feeds directly from the satellites. "Basically the ExpressVu does exactly what Whistler Cable does right now, except it removes the middle agency," says Lauzon. He adds the mini dishes will be available in Canada around the first of November. The Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunication Commission is in the process of reviewing the implementation of the ExpressVu plan and the effects it will have on cable companies. According to Lauzon, the 24-inch dish and decoder will cost about $1,000 and will be able to receive over 120 channels for about $20 a month. Custom channels like ESPN and HBO can be ordered for extra fees ranging from $9 to $20 a month. Basic cable service from Whistler Cable costs $37.50 a month. Ron Saperstein, general manager of Whistler Cable TV, says the CRTC has to take a hard look at what the direct to viewer satellite market is going to do to existing cable companies. According to Saperstein the Satellite Direct system, although illegal under present CRTC rules, has been available in Canada for residents with U.S. addresses for a couple of years. "All you have to do is get your bill sent to the States and you can set up the dish anywhere and receive the channels," he says. "It is undermining all of the Canadian content rules the CRTC has set." When the ExpressVu system is introduced in Canada, Saperstein says "it's going to be very hard to compete with." He says major cable suppliers like Rogers and Shaw Cable are already working on developing hardware similar to Express Vu. And as the small satellite dish industry puts the squeeze on cable companies, Saperstein says he is already working on diversifying what Whistler Cable does. "We are looking at increasing our local community programming and providing services like Internet access through our cable network," he says. Whistler Cable is also adding a new Family Pack of seven channels that will be available for an additional $4.99 per month. The package includes the Family Channel, The Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, Showcase, Bravo, KTLA Los Angeles superstation and WPIX New York superstation. Subscribers were asked to vote on three Canadian and two American channels that would be included in the package. They chose Discovery, Showcase and Bravo by a wide margin. Voting for the American stations was closer. The new channels will occupy numbers 38 (Showcase), 39 (KTLA), 40 (Family Channel), 41 (WPIX), 42 (TLC), 43 (Discovery) and 44 (Bravo).

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