Satellite dishes more common sight in Basin | SierraSun.com

Satellite dishes more common sight in Basin

Charles Sizemore
Sun News Service

Jim Grant/Sun News ServiceSatellite dishes are becoming more visible in the Tahoe Basin, but cable companies are trying to win back customers with TV-phone-Internet packages available in some areas.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” More and more, satellite dishes are becoming a fixture in the South Shore scenery, in a sign that satellite providers may be gaining ground in the battle for pay-TV subscribers.

On Tahoe’s West Shore and a portion of the North Shore, cable provider Suddenlink is already offering high-definition television, something that cable subscribers in South Lake Tahoe won’t have access to until next year.

Although cable and satellite providers are shy about revealing raw data concerning subscribers, it seems that satellite TV is becoming the choice of more South Shore residents.

Frank Giardina, owner of Frank’s TV and Electronics on Lake Tahoe Boulevard, estimates that he has installed 1,600 satellites dishes in the area. Frank’s serves as an independent contractor for Dish Network, making them the only “local” satellite provider in the area.

Consumers can also subscribe to DirecTV, in which case they call a toll-free number, sign up, and DirecTV sends out a representative from their nearest office.

However, when something happens to the dish or the signal, the DirecTV subscriber will have to work with customer service, while those with Dish Network can call Giardina.

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“People like local service,” Giardina said.

The main concerns with satellite seem to be losing the signal during heavy snow storms, and simply getting a signal at all if they live in a heavily wooded area, Giardina said.

Dish heaters are available, and can be effective at keeping snow from accumulating on dishes, but ultimately it’s up to the dish owner to make sure that the dish is cleared.

The war for consumer dollars between cable and satellite providers is a hard-fought battle, and one that seems to be heading toward providing high-definition programming. With the cost of high-definition TVs dropping more than 50 percent in the last three years, sales have jumped more than three-fold.

“If you don’t already own a high-definition TV, your next TV will be high definition,” said Giardina.

Consumers want high-definition programming to go with their high-definition TVs, and satellite providers, at least here in Tahoe, have the edge over cable in terms of high-definition programming.

Currently, Charter Communications, the cable provider for the South Tahoe area, does not offer high-definition programming in the Tahoe area, although they do offer high-definition programming in Reno and the Bay Area.

“We are in the middle of launching three high-definition channels to North Lake Tahoe,” said Craig Watson, vice president of communications for Charter Communications.

On part of the West Shore, in Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Truckee, Suddenlink cable is already providing customers with three tiers of high-definition programming. Four Sacramento broadcast channels are available in high definition for free to customers with a box, while eight other channels are available for a small monthly fee, and two premium channels for an additional fee.

What Charter and Suddenlink can offer that satellite providers cannot are “bundle” packages and on-demand programming.

Because Charter provides its cable signals through fiber-optic cable, the company can provide its customers with Internet and phone service as well as TV. Charter, along with other cable TV providers such as Comcast, offer their customers package deals for one or more of these services at low costs.

Currently in South Lake Tahoe, Charter does not offer telephone service, but they are hoping to launch Charter telephone service in early 2008, Watson said.

Charter offers cable and Internet packages on both the North and South Shore, Watson said.

Jason Oelkers, the Tahoe-area marketing manager for St. Louis-based Suddenlink, said the cable company is already offering bundled cable-Internet-telephone service for customers in a portion of the West Shore and Truckee. And Suddenlink is proceeding “as fast as possible” to make the bundled service available in the rest of its service area.

“We’re finding that customers enjoy having one bill,” Oelkers said Monday. “It’s a true convenience to have all services bundled.”

Dish Network offers 39 channels in high-definition, and DirecTV offers 30. DirecTV has launched two new satellites and hopes to offer up to 100 channels in high-definition by the end of the year.

With the holiday season approaching, and consumers snatching up hi-tech televisions, it will be interesting to see how satellite and cable TV providers continue to fight for the lion’s share of the pay TV market.