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Comcast to add 19 new channels over two-year period

Comcast Cablevision, the county's largest cable company, announced yesterday that it will add 19 new channels -- including 14 free basic service channels -- to its 51,000 Howard subscribers in a two-year process that begins next month.

Among the new channels that will be added to the standard package at no additional cost are Home & Garden TV, Comedy Central, TV Food Network and Bravo, an arts and entertainment channel. Currently, Comcast provides 51 cable channels in Howard.

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The expansion is part of Comcast's $100 million fiber optic network upgrade plan for Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties, said Jaye Gamble, area vice president for Comcast. As the nation's third-largest cable company, Comcast provides service to nearly 300,000 Marylanders.

Initially, about 10,000 customers living in Columbia's 21044 ZIP code area will receive the channel additions beginning June 14. Other parts of the county must wait until the cable company makes technical improvements.

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Howard subscribers have been told through mailings and cable commercials that the upgrades were coming. Today, Comcast will mail out notices informing subscribers that the new channels will start June 14 for those affected by this phase of the upgrade.

"It is a painstaking process," said Ray Allis, a Comcast designer, adding that all subscribers should get upgrades by 1998.

The expansion of the Howard TV lineup is one of the fruits of Comcast's Baltimore-area upgrade plan announced in March 1995 -- a plan aimed at staying competitive in the rapidly changing video entertainment arena.

Most of the new channels for Howard already have been added in upgraded regions of Baltimore County. A few, such as Bravo, will be making their Baltimore-area debut in Howard, said Comcast spokesman Mitchell Schmale.

Also, as part of the upgrade, Comcast is adding four 24-hour Comcast Home Theater pay-per-view channels to its Howard lineup, bringing the total of Comcast Home Theater channels to seven. And subscribers who currently have the premium channels HBO and HBO 2, will receive HBO 3 at no additional cost.

Comcast's fiber optic upgrade, begun last year in Baltimore County, is being driven by competition.

Consumers already can receive TV programs via satellite dishes as small as 18 inches across, and Bell Atlantic has plans to offer cable-like programming over telephone lines and over a part of the spectrum reserved for "wireless cable."

The fiber optics replacing Comcast's current coaxial system will allow for better picture and sound and a 90 percent reduction in the chance of cable service outages, the company says.

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In the near future, Comcast plans to provide even more channels to Howard subscribers and on-line services to customers who use the Internet and telephone dial-tone services.

But technological hurdles must be cleared before the company can enter those new markets.

Pub Date: 5/16/96



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