Telecommunications FAQ

This fact sheet was compiled by the Communications Advisory Committee after being commissioned by the OPA Board to investigate alternatives to Mediacom cable distribution in Ocean Pines. The information contained here is the result of the committee’s research of available TV services from competitive vendors, such as, DirecTV, the Dish Network, and Verizon. Each vendor brings to the table a mix of features, some being advantages and others being disadvantages. Residents interested in exploring an alternative to Mediacom cable service should find many of their initial questions and most of their critical questions answered in this telecommunications fact sheet. However, each resident, having his own particular needs and constraints, must reach his own specific conclusion. This is not a “cookie cutter” solution. The fact sheet is structured in a question and answer (FAQ) format and has been updated in January 2011.

1. How can I find out if satellite reception is possible?
U.S. geostationary television satellite constellations are “parked” between 90 degrees and 110 degrees W latitude over the equator. Regional downlink beams from satellites in this orbital location have full view of the United States land mass, including Alaska and Hawaii. Residents interested in switching from Mediacom to an alternative TV vendor need to be advised that somewhere on their property, an unrestricted view of the Southwestern sky must be available. Satellite vendors will perform a site survey of each residence to confirm adequate reception of the satellite signal and the actual physical location of the dish antenna.

2. Can I receive local channels from a satellite provider?
As of November 2010, both DirecTV and the Dish Network provide Salisbury local channels as part of their normal channel line-up. Residents selecting a satellite vendor no longer need to depend solely on an over-the-air antenna for the reception of the local TV stations.

3. Are there differences in the local channel line up between the two satellite providers?
DirecTV and the Dish Network now distribute the Salisbury TV stations to customers in the Delmarva market. The local stations are affiliated with the NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, CW, and PBS national networks. The NBC affiliate, WRDE channel 9, 809,  transmits COZItv. The CBS affiliate, WBOC channel 16, carries Fox21 as a digital sub-channel. The ABC affiliate, WMDT channel 47, transmits the CW network as a digital sub-channel. WCPB is the local PBS station carrying Maryland Public TV.

5. What are the individual services offered by each vendor?
DirecTV and the Dish Network both offer tiered TV programming packages including a wide selection of HD channels. In addition to TV, both satellite providers have a partnering agreement with Verizon that can add Internet, land line phone, and wireless phone services to round out a bundled package. Bundled packages are offered with monthly discounts and billed on a single monthly statement.

6. What is FiOS?
FiOS is an acronym for Fiber Optic System. Verizon uses the term to describe its fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure. This fiber network is presently offered in many areas of the United States. Verizon has attracted consumer and media attention as the first major U.S. telecommunications carrier to offer fiber to the home. Other service providers, such as Mediacom, currently only use fiber on their network backbone and continue to use a copper infrastructure from the backbone to the end user.

7. Can I get FiOS?
Unfortunately, Ocean Pines will not be seeing the roll out of fiber optics service by Verizon for five or more years. For the interim period, residents will continue to rely on the current provisioning of the Verizon copper wire infrastructure for land line phone and DSL Internet services and their new 4G wireless infrastructure.

8. What are the Verizon service bundles?
With no FiOS service available in Ocean Pines, Verizon offers a partnering agreement with DirecTV or Dish Network. Under this agreement, either satellite provider offers a customer access to a tiered set of TV packages complemented by Verizon providing the DSL Internet access, land line and/or wireless phone service. The main advantage to this arrangement is that all services are billed on a single monthly statement from Verizon. Ocean Pines residents can contract Verizon Customer Service Support Center (CSSC) in Salisbury or visit the Verizon web page for bundled packages.
They include:
(a) Triple Play – includes Verizon Freedom Value (unlimited phone), Verizon High Speed DSL Internet (1.5 Mbps download speed), and DirecTV or Dish Network tiered packages that can include over 200 standard definition and HDTV channels, a set top box with DVR, 31 premium movie channels, 30 specialty and regional sports networks, and 63 music channels. Verizon tiered package incentives change periodically. Triple Play gives the simplicity of a single point of contact for service. Check Verizon’s web (http://www22.verizon.com/?CMP=KNC-Consumer) for current offerings.
(b) Double Play – includes Verizon Freedom Value or Verizon Freedom Essentials phone service plus Verizon High Speed DSL Internet (1.5 Mbps download speed). There is no TV with this package. Check Verizon’s web (http://www22.verizon.com/?CMP=KNC-Consumer) for current offerings.

9. What is missing with Verizon?
Since the copper infrastructure in Ocean Pines dates from an era before the demands of digital wideband Internet, Verizon does not budget investment dollars for upgrades and improvements to the in-ground wiring. Consequently, the existing copper lines are maintained and adequate for telephone, fax, and high speed digital (DSL) access to the Internet. This means that the maximum Internet download connectivity speed in Ocean Pines is restricted to 1.5 Mbps even though the vendor may advertise tiered rates of 3 Mbps and 7.1 Mbps.

10. What are the DirecTV’s service bundles?
DirecTV offers tiered packages of all the major network channels and the conventional cable channels, such as CNN, ESPN, TNT, and CNBC, from their regional beam in standard definition plus over 130 channels in High Definition (1080p) and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. The satellite antenna installation is included in each tiered package. Upgrades include the monthly rental of up to four standard definition set top boxes (STBs), up to four HD STBs, or up to four HD STBs with DVD. In addition to the hardware rental, a variety of custom programming options are available such as sport packages (NFL, MLB, NBA), movie channels (HBO, Starz, Showtime), and Video on Demand Pay Per View. Check the DirecTV web at http://www.directstartv.com/directv_programming/directv_compare_packages.html for current offerings. Promotions change every few months.

11. What are the Dish Network’s service bundles?
The Dish Network offers tiered packages of over 250 channels consisting of all the major network channels and the conventional cable channels from their regional beam plus over 70 of the same channels in High Definition (1080p) and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. The satellite antenna installation is included in each tiered package. Package upgrades include the monthly rental of standard definition STBs, HD STBs, or HD STB with DVD. In addition to the hardware rental, a variety of custom programming options are available such as sport packages (Fox Sports, MASN, NFL), movie channels (HBO, Cinemax, Showtime), and Video on Demand Pay Per View. Check the Dish Network web site at http://www.dishnetwork.com/packages/programming/default.aspx for current promotions.

12. Can an Internet subscriber get more bandwidth?
Mediacom offers three Internet download speeds; 3 Mbps, 8 Mbps, and 20 Mbps. A high speed Internet access of 50 Mbps can be provided for business applications. The service does not require a contract for TV. Verizon High Speed Internet offers three DSL Internet download speeds; 1.5 Mbps, 3 Mbps, and 7.1 Mbps. However, because Ocean Pines residents are more than 8000 feet from the phone company’s Central Office, attenuation of a DSL signal on their unprovisioned copper wire infrastructure limits download speed to only 1.5 Mbps.

13. I use my cell phone for all my telephone needs. Can I buy just DSL from Verizon, without also paying for phone service?
Verizon does offer “naked” or stand-alone DSL. It’s worth investigating if you’ve outgrown fixed-line phone service. Go to Verizon’s regular page for digital-subscriber-line service(http://www22.verizon.com/residential/highspeedinternet), click on “Plans”, and you’ll see it listed at the right side of the page. You will pay slightly more for the privilege. However, if you are already a Verizon wireless customer, a discount promotional offer is available which reduces the current DLS monthly rate from $39.99 to $17.99.

14. How can I find out if I have satellite reception?
Verizon and DirecTV have already performed a cursory survey of Ocean Pines neighborhoods. Given your address, your view toward the Southwestern sky may already be known. The Dish Network has not performed a pre-survey. However, when contracting for either satellite service, the vendor will perform a site survey during the installation to ensure adequate field signal strength from the satellites.

15. What are my local Salisbury TV channels?
The major digital TV channels from Salisbury include the following:

  • CBS (WBOC) – 16.1
  • NBC (WRDE)- 31.1
  • Fox21 – 21.1 (subchannel on 16.1)
  • PBS (WCPB) – 28.1
  • MPT2 – 28.2 (subchannel on 28.1)
  • MPT V-me – 28.3 (subchannel on 28.1)
  • ABC (WMDT) – 47.1
  • Delmarva CW3 – 47.2 (subchannel on 47.1)

The web site http://www.tvfool.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=90 lists the estimated signal strengths of these transmitters and the probability of detecting them with an indoor or outdoor antenna. The map will also give you azimuth orientation from your home to each transmitter. This information is useful for calculating a link management guide and antenna orientation/pointing data.

16. If I switch to satellite, do I need a digital converter box for my analog TV?
There are two answers to this question. If you had an analog TV set while connected to Mediacom, the cable provider’s STB took care of the digital to analog conversion. If you switch to a satellite provider, the new satellite STB will once more take care of the digital to analog conversion. However, if you have an analog TV and plan to connect it to a local antenna, you will need a digital conversion box to receive the channels. If you have a digital TV set, you will not need a digital conversion box for either the satellite STB or the local TV channels.

17. How does one scientifically determine the ability, or inability to receive local TV?
The Federal Communications Commission has a prescribed method by which these measurements are made. It requires a calibrated field intensity meter, an antenna with known gain, and a series of measurements (cluster points) to be made on the property. WBOC and Direct TV have evaluated and certified Craig Banks of Craig’s TV, Seaford, Del., as an authorized tester. If you plan on using anyone other than Craig’s, you must notify the local TV stations 30 days prior to the test, indicating the company, contact person and the date and location the test will be performed. TV stations reserve the right as granted by federal law to reject a tester if deem unqualified.

18. I cannot pick up local TV stations with rabbit ears. What are my options?
Because of trees and the distance of the Ocean Pines home to the TV transmitters, many residents will require a quality outdoor or attic antenna installation in order to receive a quality signal. A quality installation may include a mast mounted RF amplifier, a mast mounted antenna rotator, and a RF distribution amplifier if multiple TV sets will be connected to the antenna.

19. Why doesn’t Ocean Pines get a different cable company when the present contract with Mediacom is over?
The present Mediacom contract dates from 1998. At that time, Mediacom assumed the in-place cable infrastructure from the original cable vender from a bankruptcy sale. Since Mediacom did not have significant start up costs, it was mutually negotiated that because the OPA granted exclusive distribution rights to Mediacom for 15 years, the cable vendor would pay a 3% of a maximum 5% franchise fee to the OPA on annual gross revenues. Based on the number of Ocean Pines TV customers, OPA realizes a franchise fee of ~$150,000 per year. If, prior to the 2013 renewal date, the OPA considers to solicit a bid from a competitive cable company, that company could either negotiate the purchase of the present cable infrastructure from Mediacom or incur the significant capital investment of laying a new cable infrastructure through out the community. Although a new vendor may provide better service and programming selections, there is no guarantee that it will agree to pay a franchising fee to the OPA. Not having the revenue from this franchising fee could cause a proportional increase in the annual property assessments of all home owners.

20. Are there any recommendations that can be made to community residents?
Assuming a resident has an unrestricted view of the Southwestern sky and wishes to drop Mediacom cable TV, there are a few available options and permutations of those options that may be considered. Each suggestion has its individual cost/benefit trade offs. Understand each trade off as you reach a conclusion. For instance, dropping Mediacom’s TV service may incur a penalty fee if you are under a time period contract. However, each of their three services can be provided on a month-to-month basis. Because DirecTV and the Dish Network have similar option packages, the possible mixes of services could include the following, not in any priority order:
(a)Drop Mediacom TV service but retain their Internet access service (8 or 20 Mbps download speeds). Keep your existing Verizon land line phone service if this is your current phone provider. Add one of the DirecTV or Dish Network bundled TV packages.
(b)Drop Mediacom TV but retain their Internet access service (8 or 20 Mbps download speeds). Drop Verizon land line phone service, if this is your current phone provider, but add Mediacom’s phone service. Add one of the DirecTV or Dish Network bundled TV packages.
(c)Drop all Mediacom services (TV, Internet, and phone). Pick up one of the DirecTV or Dish Network bundled TV packages. Add Verizon DSL Internet access (1.5 Mbps) service to your existing Verizon phone service.
(d)Drop all Mediacom services (TV, Internet, and phone). Pick up one of the DirecTV or Dish Network bundled TV packages. Drop your existing land line phone service and add Verizon “naked” DSL Internet access (1.5 Mbps) service. Rely on your wireless carrier for phone and text service.

Comment 1:
If any Mediacom service is retained after dropping TV, as in Recommendation A or B, be advised that you will incur a service price penalty. Furthermore, during any cable outage, you will lose Internet and/or phone service.

Comment 2:
Since Ocean Pines has a 15 year distribution contract with Mediacom, and this distribution contract addresses only TV (since Internet and phone service bundles were not offered in 1998), dropping TV from the cable service plan will have a negative impact on the annual franchise fee paid by the vendor to the OPA.