My Turn: Fixing Truckee’s TV
At the Dec. 1, 2005 Truckee Town Council review of Cebridge’s performance as the town’s cable provider, it was clear to me that there was considerable confusion surrounding the technical language and issues involved.
It was also abundantly clear that Cebridge was doing a poor job communicating their actions. Having related experience, I volunteered to serve as an interpreter of the technical jargon and an independent analyst of the issues. My objective here is to share information I’ve gained in the process of doing just that.
First, our problems lie with the broadcast channels ” the Reno, San Francisco and Sacramento stations. We receive the cable channels ” CNN, ESPN, etc. ” comparatively well.
Secondly, I think it’s beneficial to take a brief a look back in time. Truckee’s founders, in choosing the town’s location, were more interested in the railroad than TV reception. Possibly because in 1863, there were no TV sets, much less TV stations. Hence, our town founders inadvertently sowed the seeds of our reception problems by choosing a location out of sight from the future TV broadcast stations.
How were they to know that TV signals travel in straight lines and that the distance, atmospheric conditions, weather and topography between the receiving antenna and the station affect the signal strength and quality?
Many years later, a local TV shop (Tom’s TV), in an effort to improve TV reception, developed the first cable system for Truckee. Over the years, as demands on the system grew, surpassing the resources of the mom-and-pop operation, ownership of the system passed through a series of companies, culminating with Cebridge in August of 2004.
At the time Cebridge took over, antennas were located on Ward Peak (at the top of Alpine Meadows) to receive the broadcast stations, taking advantage of that location’s view of Reno, Sacramento and San Francisco. A microwave link relayed the signals to Truckee.
Cable channels were received with an industrial satellite dish receiving system. Both the microwave and satellite signals were fed into the cable network via electronics contained in two shipping containers ” called the “head end” ” parked on Truckee Donner Public Utility District property above downtown.
This cobbled-together system worked fairly well except when the wind blew, snow fell, there was a temperature inversion in the Sacramento valley, or a host of other issues not necessarily under the control of the cable company.
Service access to Ward Peak depended on the ski lift operating and the Forest Service’s assessment of safety. More over, shortly after Cebridge took over, the Federal Communications Commission changed the frequency assignment of a Reno TV station, placing it on Channel 9 directly interfering with the reception of KQED from San Francisco.
For me, the most significant point is that the cause of our poor broadcast TV station reception, lies not within the cable system itself, but in the quality of the signals received by the system operator.
I learned also that the FCC considers the Sacramento stations to be our “local” stations and does not require the cable operator to carry “out of market” stations. Cebridge, and its predecessors, decided to carry some Reno and San Francisco stations because of Truckee’s proximity to Reno and our San Francisco connections.
Prior to the system acquisition from USA Media, Cebridge allocated over $1 million for improvements. They soon learned they had underestimated the problems and needed to go back to the financial well for additional resources. Although they have more than their predecessors did, they are still a relatively small company that must set priorities. There are several areas where the network can be further optimized.
Properly, they have chosen to first address the major problems that affect all subscribers, namely, the reception of broadcast TV stations.
Space prevents a complete listing, but here is a partial list of some of their more significant accomplishments.
– Relocated the head-end from the shipping containers to a new indoor facility in Pioneer Industrial Park.
– Installed a new all-weather, multi-channel dish to receive the cable networks.
– Leased bandwidth on a fiber optic trunk line running from Sacramento through Auburn to Truckee and constructed over five miles of line connecting to the new head-end.
– Installed antennas in Auburn, Lake of the Pines and downtown Sacramento to provide better reception of Sacramento stations
– Constructed the necessary cable lines connecting these sites to the trunk line.
Residual issues with the Sacramento and San Francisco stations led to a successful search for direct studio feeds. A path was identified through several intermediate companies and facilities. Agreements and leases with these companies have been signed and equipment installation is in progress. There is a chance the direct feeds will be operational by the time this column reaches print.
Considering the design effort required, the acquisition time for equipment that is not exactly “off the shelf,” plus the time required for actual construction and debugging of a rather sophisticated electronic network, Cebridge is making progress. Are they done? No. Will there be continuing problems? Possibly. Could they do a better job, in the future, of communicating their plans to the town and its citizens? Yes.
For now, let’s bear with them a bit longer, they are making a real effort.
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