Cable television in Ireland

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In the early years of television Irish viewers had access to the BBC via signals coming from Northern Ireland and Wales. By 1959 Northern Irish viewers had access to one public service broadcaster (BBC) and one commercial broadcaster (Ulster Television). The Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs - Leon O'Broin -had tried to progress the idea of an Irish channel since 1953, this new medium coming from the north was to spur the Irish government into action.[1] Teilifís Éireann began broadcasting on the 31st of December 1961. During these years many Irish radio listeners where listening to BBC Radio so the interest in BBC Television would continue, some had been watching since 1953 via spillover signals. 1963 saw the first cable service from RTÉ under the name RTÉ Relays, these tests were in preparation for the building of the Ballymun apartment blocks, which were built during these early years of RTÉ Television. RTÉ relays would opt to provide their service with the BBC and Ulster Television (later Cablelink would also provide HTV from Wales).

Technology[edit]

Ireland's cable television networks are primarily digital DVB-C services. However, in most areas, a small number (approximately 16) analogue channels are still carried alongside digital services.

The legacy analogue cable television services provide unencrypted PAL System I television channels. Frequency plans vary from place to place and channels are carried in Band I, Band III, Hyperband and sometimes Band IV.

In the past, additional encrypted premium analogue channels were also available. To view these channels a set top box was required. Cablelink / NTL Ireland used Cryptovision, while some other companies, notably Cork Multichannel, used Jerrold (General Instrument) scrambling systems.

Cork City and other areas cabled by Cork Multichannel Television required an Jerrold (General Instrument)set top box for all channels. The entire Cork analogue cable network was encrypted from late 1980s onwards. The Cork network also carried more channels than other cable networks in Ireland at that time. When digital cable was launched in Cork, UPC Ireland rapidly swapped analogue set top boxes for digital boxes and then shutdown the analogue service entirely. The network still carries analogue terrestrial channels, RTE1, RTE2, TV3 and TG4 in some parts of the network. This means that Cork is the first city in Ireland with an exclusively digital cable network.

For analogue cable in Ireland there is no set frequency plan. Most cable networks for analogue use Harmonically related carriers (carrier frequencies of exact 8 MHz multiples). Some cable networks such as Limerick use Irish terrestrial channel alignments or even a mixture of the two-channel plans.

Digital cable operates using DVB-C, although encryption, as well as other platform details varies by provider. Most providers require the use of a set top box to view their television services.

Some very small, independent, entirely analogue networks still exist. These use standard coaxial cables boosted and tapped at regular intervals. Unfortunately this can lead to serious signal degradation problems, particularly on overhead networks.

Digital networks have far more sophisticated trunking systems. The five main Cities (Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford), along with towns like Dungarvan, Clonmel, Kilkenny etc. now enjoy state of the art Hybrid fibre-coaxial networks which are used to deliver a myriad of services, including analogue and digital TV, broadband DOCSIS 3.0, and cable telephony services.

Overhead cables are common in areas constructed before the foundation of the local cable firm, or where the cable firm did not have a construction agreement with the builders; underground cables are more common in developments build post-1985.

Analogue MMDS specifications were legally set in 1998 by the then Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation in the document "Technical conditions for the operation of analogue programme services distribution systems in the frequency band 2500-2686 MHz"

UPC Digital MMDS uses a DVB-C variant on ex NTL MMDS and a variant of DVB-T on ex Chorus MMDS networks.

History[edit]

Cable first started in the 1960s, when several companies, including state broadcaster RTÉ, started re-broadcasting the UK's three terrestrial TV channels in some cities and larger towns.

The first major city outside Dublin to build a purpose-built Cable TV network under the new 1974 regulations was Waterford, which initially delivered service to some 6,000 homes in 1974. It now supplies an analogue service to an estimated 14 - 16,000 homes in Waterford City, along with almost 5,000 cable broadband customers, and is now commencing VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony services.

Other cities followed suit, but not until the 1980s. First Cork, then Galway and finally Limerick were cabled. However, due to legislation regarding the use of microwave links at the time, companies were forced to lay untold kilometres of cable to get from the headend to the city.

The cable connecting Cork to the Comeragh Mountains was 100 km (60 mi) in total: the longest cable TV route ever built in Europe.[citation needed] Casey Cablevision of Dungarvan, County Waterford held the Irish record previously, with a 25 km (16 mi) line connecting to the Comeragh Mountains headend. Cork Communications (Cork Multichannel TV) had initially built a head-end in the Knockmealdown mountains, but reception there was less than satisfactory and a deal was done after a few months in 1982 to use Casey Cablevision's headend.

The majority of major cable systems in Ireland now use fibre optics, however some smaller systems still use a mixture of microwave links, UHF antennae and direct satellite feeds to local headends.

By the 1980s cable television was well-established as the most popular multi-channel television reception system in Ireland. In addition to providing Irish and British terrestrial television, Irish CATV systems generally began adding additional services during the 1980s as English-language services started to appear on European satellites that were receivable in Ireland. This greatly enhanced the number of channels available to customers. Property developers also began to pre-wire new homes for cable service where it was available. By the end of the decade, cable television was more popular than both direct reception of UHF television from the UK and satellite television.

While "cable" television generally refers to services provided by cables, as the name might suggest, legally MMDS television distribution systems, which are widespread in rural Ireland, were classified as a form of 'cable' television. MMDS rollout began in 1989, with the network of 29 cells forming a "national grid" being regulated for, if not intact by 1998.

Multichannel[edit]

Long before any coaxial cable had been laid for the distribution of television in Ireland, the Irish were enjoying multi-channel TV. Even before Teilifís Éireann had begun to broadcast, Irish viewers were watching the BBC and ITV. The BBC signal was available to 40% of the population in the Republic by the late 1950s.[2] Many had already installed outdoor aerials to get signals from Northern Ireland or Wales. Not all of the country could get access to the BBC and ITVs signals, so they were introduced to television by the new Irish television service Teilifís Éireann, by the time the 1960 Broadcasting Act had been produced around 50,000 television set had been sold in Ireland.[3] During this time Ireland experienced economic growth and the beginnings of Community Antenna Television (CATV) or Cabled television broadcasts. RTÉ set up their relays service for viewers in Ballymun providing both the BBC and Ulster Television on their service known as RTÉ Relays.[4] Even before the advent of Sky Digital in Ireland and later FTA UK Satellite, over 75% of households had ITV (UTV or HTV).

Laying Ireland's cable[edit]

There were two prevailing reasons for cable. The attraction of the British channels and hence more choice, and better reception for many people, analogue terrestrial signals cover about 90% of the population. Cable companies around Dublin (such as RTÉ Relays, Marlin Communal Aerials Ltd., and Phonix Relays Ltd.) provided the 3 main British broadcasters at the time (later they would also provide Channel 4 and satellite channels).[5]

Cablevision rolled out CATV systems in Waterford and Galway.

In 1981 Marlin Communal Aerials Ltd. acquired Phoenix Relays Ltd and formed Dublin Cablesystems Ltd. (DCS). The Canadian company Rogers Cable owned Cablevision and Dublin Cablesystems through their purchase of Perimer Cablevision in 1980. In 1984 RTÉ proposed to buy 75% of DCS in an aim to modernise cable systems that had an "urgent need for modernisation and development which was impossible under present conditions".[6]

There was little regulation of cable systems during the early years, often it was there to redistribute British channels and improve RTÉ's reception. With this in mind RTÉ was allowed buy a 75% share in DCS and 1986 formed Cablelink. Cablelink had approximately 200,000 subscribers.[7] By 1990 almost 300,000 homes had cable subscriptions and the Government began to regulate the MMDS system.[8]

One of the first MMDS operators provided 11 channels, but RTÉ One or Network 2 did not appear on the service, rather their CEO insisted on the RTÉ News that customers could already receive those transmission terrestrially and his product was about providing more choice.[9]

The Report of the Cable Systems Committee of 1984[edit]

The Report of the Cable Systems Committee of 1984 recommended the upgrading of the current cable systems in Ireland. There seemed at this time to be no mandate for community or local broadcasts. According to the committee Ireland's cable network had evolved to gain better access to "off‐air" signals coming from Britain. In 1961 the limited use of aerials saw the development of Irish cable. In 1966 RTÉ was given the task of providing cabled services to the Ballymun area. Cable saw restrictions put in places as RTÉ sought to establish itself as a television broadcaster. Only areas with over the air access to ITV and BBC signals were permitted to have cable services (to improve receptions they already had), within those areas only one building or ten houses could use the one link, in 1970 this was increased to 500. This was to try to prevent RTÉ having a monopoly, but they remained in the market with RTÉ Relays.

In 1973 the government introduced a levy to all cable company for 15% of their fee to be given to RTÉ due to losses incurred from advertising revenues, any company with less than 100 subscribers were exempt from this levy. By 1974 43 cable companies had been licensed. From 1981 new cable companies were allowed in areas without "off‐air"/spillover signals. In 1985 314,000 homes had access to cable television, with 80% of those home taking up the services provided.[10]

There was some unauthorized access to cable service by customers which caused radio disruption, while older systems lacked the two-way communication while new cable had only some two-way communications. The Committee was advising that cable be treated as a national infrastructure and to be dealt with in a manor ready for the information age. It continued to suggest that new services such as local and community TV, Pay TV, pay per view and interactive services could be used on the cable networks. Direct Satellite Broadcasting was ready to begin in Europe by 1986. The committee looked at both Belgium and Canada as they had similar take-up of cable as Ireland.[11]

Cable was an integral part of Ireland Information Infrastructure and the Department of Communications took an active role in regulating it technical and in regards content.[12]

In 1985 VHF band I and III were used to carry six television stations, while VHF band II carried radio stations, however it was thought that up to 15 channels could be provided on the cable services. They were advised that 30‐50 channels could be provided, but this would be at huge infrastructure costs and was not in the interest of customers, since many only had a 15-channel dial [13]

With the merger of RTÉ Relays and DCS many customers were beginning to see better reception due to the integration of both systems, Cablelink had begun to reduce head‐ends which help with reception issues.[14]

The Cable Systems Committee recommended further penetration of the network around the country. Issues surrounding copyrights were an issue, however at this time the Television Without Frontiers Directive (TVWF) was being discussed in Europe, it was recommending that once content was legally transmitted in one jurisdiction that it should be permitted in others.[15]

The committee spent some time investigating interactivity; while it came to no conclusion about the need for interactive services it did suggest that cable licensees set about upgrading their systems in case such services become popular in the future. The committee also investigated planning laws; it was felt that each planning authority at the time had different rules for the laying of cable. There should be a more uniformed approach, they did not go as far as to suggest that cable companies be given the status of utility companies thus providing them with access to private property, they did suggest that those not wishing to have equipment on the premises should then be charge for the re‐route should they ever want cable in the future. It was also pointed out that some Local Authorities put levies on cable systems, which cable companies were not aware of when applying for their licence, thus having the need to request price increases. It was not thought that unauthorised access should be made a criminal offence, but rather that cable be placed underground as this had cause reductions in unauthorised access in other countries. It was also felt that cables should be earthed to prevent any electrical danger it may cause to people in their homes.[16]

At the time RTÉ received a 15% percent levy from the cable companies for money lost through advertising revenue, as RTÉ now owned 80% of Cablelink the largest cable supplier it was thought that this should be reviewed as it had a near monopoly in the country. Administration costs were also to be reduced and the commission suggested that a 6 monthly list of customers should be provided to the Department rather than a monthly one. Local adverts provided on the cable company's line up of channels should be allowed however the companies should have the same constrains as RTÉ Television.

By 1981 Dublin had two major cable companies, DCS and RTÉ relays and a few smaller companies around the city. Allied Combined Trust (ACT), a subsidiary of Allied Irish Investment Bank, held 20% of Cablelink by 1986, while 80% was held by RTÉ. The Minister for Communications Jim Mitchell asked for a review of the Restrictive practices in Dublin caused by a virtual monopoly that had been built by the new company.

The takeover of the DCS system by RTÉ Relays had been approved and a number of reasons for the merger were put forward:

  1. A more integrated approach to Dublin cable which had grown in a patchwork of different companies
  2. A new primary network was to be laid covering 140 km, with 80 km underground
  3. A new technical processing centre in Ternure to provide other services
  4. Cells of 3,000 homes
  5. Increase number of stations available to the public

New set-top boxes could be used to provide free satellite channels, Pay TV, Pay per View and interactive services.

The issues surrounding the monopoly insisted that the cable company had some competition from other sources:

  1. RTÉ ONE and TWO are available free‐to‐air
  2. BBC 1, BBC2, UTV, HTV, S4C and C4 were available through roof-top aerials
  3. Direct satellite broadcasters were currently broadcasting direct to home satellite systems

However

  1. It was felt that FTA RTÉ ONE and TWO was not sufficient
  2. There was limited use of roof top aerials for the British channels
  3. It was at that time illegal to own a satellite [17]

It was felt that more than one operator would provide smaller areas and two to a house was unworkable, it didn't matter how many cable companies were available since most areas would only ever have one those providing a monopoly in that area.[18]

The committee wanted local television to be defined; Cablelink pointed out that within the network each area was made up of 3000 cells so this would not be an issue should areas require their own local TV service. The company was also in good finances; some smaller operators could end up out of business due to the high cost of maintaining their network. There was also a feeling that the CEO of a larger company did not listen to their customers as they were so far removed from the customer, small local cable companies had the CEO as the area manager. By 1986 Cablelink had made no approaches to the Minister for the addition of services via satellite, there was a suggestion that RTÉ was preventing new services from appearing on screen however Cablelink insisted that it wanted to launch the services across Dublin rather than in bits and pieces as it upgraded their network.[19]

A brief timeline of the Cable and MMDS industry in Ireland[edit]

1963: Marlin cables part Ballymun

1968: RTÉ with its subsidiary RTÉ Relays cables the Ballymun Flats.

1970s: Phonix and Marlin merge to form Dublin Cablesystems (DCS) owned by Rogers Cable Canada

1980 Preimer Cablevision is bought by Rogers Cable which owns Cablevision Waterford and Galway

In the early 1980s Westward cable provide cable to Limerick City, Cork city is cabled by Cork Communications

1990s Princes Holding buy Cork Communications and rebrand as Limerick and Cork Multichannel

CMI: Cable Management Ireland begin to buy up small town franchises

1990s RTÉ sells a 60% share of Cablelink to Telecom Eireann, in 1999 both are forced to sell their shares, NTL buys cablelink.

Mid 1990s Cork and Limerick Multichannel become Irish Multichannel 2000 Irish Multichannel buy CMI and Nore‐Suir Relays and rebrand as Chorus

2004 Independent Newspapers sell their 50% of chorus to Liberty Global

2007 Virgin Media sells NTL Ireland to Liberty Global. The two largest cable companies in Ireland merge and form Chorus NTL owned by UPC.

Several smaller providers remain in some smaller towns. The biggest being Casey Cable in Dungarvan which was set up in the 1970s.

Regulation[edit]

Early cable television operated in an unregulated grey market, with providers laying cables wherever possible from their signal collection point, often the local electrical store. The system was eventually regulated by the Wireless Telegraphy (Wired Broadcast Relay Licence) Regulations of 1974 in to an exclusive franchise system, where one company holds a franchise to provider analogue cable television and radio services to a specific area. Franchisers under this system are referred to as having "1974 licences"

Further modifications to the Wireless Telegraphy Act allowed for the start of MMDS in 1989.

The major revision of the legislation, Wireless Telegraphy (Programme Services Distribution) Regulations of 1999, brought in a new class of licence. This introduced the concept of non-exclusive franchises, which had existed in theory with competing cable and MMDS firms in certain areas, and allowed for the introduction of digital cable and MMDS transmission.

Cable companies are obliged to carry national terrestrial television and RTÉ radio by both Regulations, although analogue MMDS operators are exempted from carrying all but TV3 of these.

Regulation will include free-to air and commercial DTT shortly, putting it on a similar footing to cable and satellite in terms of copyright, regulations and so forth under the enacted Broadcasting Act 2009 . For more see the article on it and debates[20] and status.[21]

Local Television[edit]

Cork Multichannel ran a local television station on its cable network called "The Show Channel" or "The Local Channel". It had a wide range of local programming and text-based community notices. This channel was carried on the Cork cable system from 1988 onwards. The company built studios at its headquarters on Georges Quay. This channel became "Chorus Sport" when Cork Multichannel merged with other companies to form Chorus.

Show Channel / Local Channel content included local entertainment programmes, music-video programmes presented by local VJs, community programming focusing on culture and history, cookery programmes and it even hosted a live phone-in chat show. The channel also provided extensive coverage of local sport events. Its presenters included TV3's Trevor Welsh and RTÉ's Marty Morrissey. When the channel was not on air, community notices with text and graphics were shown. The channel also carried commercial advertising.

In 1995 the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) successfully prevented Cablelink from selling local advertising on some of the channels on their network, however it is unlike that they would have been let provide such opt-outs by the channel owners.[22]

Some local television did run during the 1990s. Cablelink's "Link Channel" shared space with The Children's Channel. "Link" provided some local news in Dublin, Waterford and Galway. It also ran local text ads during its off hours (while broadcasting Sky radio) [23]

In Waterford City, Cablelink's Cabletext service (a rolling noticeboard, which included programming such as the Munster Game and CTV) ran uninterrupted from 1988 until it was replaced by City Channel in 2007. A highly successful and popular service, it was manned voluntarily exclusively by local Cablelink engineers. In essence a truly local service. It also carried a programme called 'Waterford at 8' for several years which also proved very popular.

There are a number of local channels currently broadcasting, including City Channel - part owned by UPC Ireland - and a number of community channels DCTV (Dublin Community Television), CCTV (Cork Community TV) and P5TV.

The use of cable today[edit]

UPC Ireland (like most other cable operators in the world) provides what NTL initially marketed as triple play: Telephone, television and internet access. This has become a reality in more recent years with 25% of their customers taking up their broadband package and 11% taking up their telephony package.[24] This has caused UPC to make major infrastructural developments in the old networks which had been badly maintained by the both the owners and not regulated by any government bodies. Ireland has several small independent CATV operators around the country - the biggest provider is that of Casey Cablevision in Dungarvan. The rest of the country is covered by UPC (previously known as Chorus NTL).

Subscriptions[edit]

UPC Ireland Subscriptions
Date Digital TV Other TV Total
2009 Q4[25] 315,500
2010[26] 381,000
2011 Q2[27] 384,000
2012[28] 382,200
2013[29] 338,300 88,700 427,000

References[edit]

  1. ^ Horgan, J. (2001) Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922, 1st ed., London and New York, Routledge: p77
  2. ^ Horgan, J. (2001) Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922, 1st ed., London and New York, Routledge: p80
  3. ^ Horgan, J. (2001) Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922, 1st ed., London and New York, Routledge: p88
  4. ^ Report of the Cable Systems Committee, 1984
  5. ^ Flanagan, P. (1994) Cable TV in Ireland in the 1990s, MA Thesis, Dublin City University. p10
  6. ^ Flanagan, P. (1994) Cable TV in Ireland in the 1990s, MA Thesis, Dublin City University. p11
  7. ^ Flanagan, P. (1994) Cable TV in Ireland in the 1990s, MA Thesis, Dublin City University. p11
  8. ^ Kearny, R. (1988) Across The Frontiers: Ireland in the 1990s: Cultural, Political and Economical, 1st ed., Dublin: p220
  9. ^ Lally, M. (1990). Report into MMDS TV providers. IN: Six O'clock News. RTE1. 12 April 1990. view here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCFBSjuiyUY.(Lally: Six One News)
  10. ^ (The report of the Cable Systems Committee: p20
  11. ^ (The report of the Cable Systems Committee: p 28
  12. ^ The report of the Cable Systems Committee: p 20
  13. ^ The report of the Cable Systems Committee:p36
  14. ^ The report of the Cable Systems Committee:p36
  15. ^ The report of the Cable Systems Committee: p 41
  16. ^ The Report of the Cable Systems Committee of 1984: p54
  17. ^ (Restrictive Practices Commission: Report of study into CATV systems in the Greater Dublin Area: p 15
  18. ^ (Restrictive Practices Commission: Report of study into CATV systems in the Greater Dublin Area: p 18
  19. ^ (Restrictive Practices Commission: Report of study into CATV systems in the Greater Dublin Area: p 23
  20. ^ http://debates.oireachtas.ie/DDebate.aspx?F=DAL20090618.xml&Node=H5#H5
  21. ^ http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=9433&&CatID=59
  22. ^ Horgan, J. (2001) Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922, 1st ed., London and New York, Routledge: p115
  23. ^ (ICDG :Local television).
  24. ^ (UPC:Ireland)
  25. ^ http://www.rte.ie/news/business/2009/0224/114395-upc/
  26. ^ http://www.rte.ie/news/business/2011/0225/298067-upc/
  27. ^ http://siliconrepublic.com/business/item/22976-upc-sees-continued-subscrip
  28. ^ http://www.rte.ie/news/business/2013/0214/367724-upc-ireland-hits-1-million-mark/
  29. ^ http://www.rte.ie/news/business/2014/0214/504279-upc-ireland-subscribers/