Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Comcast subscribers shut out of Spanish language channel

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Maryland Public Television has begun airing V-me, an all-Spanish-language channel featuring a wide range of educational, cultural and public affairs programs.

But viewers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties who want to watch the digital channel will need not only a digital tuner, but an antenna, satellite dish or Verizon cable because Comcast is not carrying it.

The decision by the counties’ dominant cable provider not to offer V-me in a region where more than two-thirds of Maryland’s Hispanic population resides has left some folks scratching their heads.

‘‘I would like to know why Comcast has made this decision,” said Montgomery County Council President Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton.

‘‘That seems pretty short-sighted to me,” said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly. She urged residents to ‘‘call and protest.”

‘‘It’s not a bandwidth issue,” Comcast spokeswoman Jaye Linnen said.

Linnen said Comcast offers comparable Spanish language programming on other channels and, although the company does not have any plans to offer V-me through MPT now, it is continuing to evaluate its offerings.

MPT will run the 24-hour network — a partnership between New York City’s WNET and private investors — on one of its three digital channels.

V-me is available in New York, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and most of California. Its MPT debut marks its closest move to the Washington market.

Comcast currently only carries MPT digital signals in the Baltimore and Salisbury areas, and generally has not carried digital signals of multiple PBS affiliates in the same market.

In the Washington area, Comcast does offer digital channels for PBS affiliate WETA, based in Arlington, Va., also home to many Hispanics.

In Montgomery and Prince George’s, V-me can be seen on Verizon Cable channel 881, Dish Network 9414 and Dish Latino 846.

V-me is broadcast by MPT throughout Maryland; its digital signal can be picked up by antenna in neighboring areas, including parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Antenna-dependent viewers who live in Montgomery and Prince George’s are most likely to find V-me on digital channels 62.3, 22.3 and 67.3, depending on their distance from a broadcast tower.

DirecTV is expected to add V-me to its lineup later this year.

Staff Writer Judson Berger contributed to this report.