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Satellite Woes

August 02, 1987

After reading the July 14 story concerning General Instrument Corp., "Videocipher Scrambles (and Descrambles) to Success," I was appalled at the mistakes that were reported.

Some of the facts that have been badly distorted are the price of the descramblers (used to decode cable television signals transmitted via satellite), the supposed revival of the market for home satellite dish antennas, the situation concerning "pirate boxes" and many other subtle matters.

Descramblers carry a suggested retail price of at least $450, but they can be gotten for as little as $300 (if you also buy $400 of programming services). Still, that's a far cry from the $150 reported in the Times.

Concerning the supposed revival of the market, it only looks that way because the sales erosion is slowing down. It's important to remember that there has been more than a 90% decline in the market from when HBO started scrambling its signal. The collapse of the manufacturers, distributors and dealers has been horrendous and the few that are left are still not anywhere near their volumes from before the crash.

The "pirate" situation has been generated by the programmers themselves. The cost of programming to the dish subscriber has been higher than it is to the cable subscriber. Please remember that as a dish owner I own the equipment on the ground and I am responsible for the maintenance and repair of that equipment. Why should I pay $12.95 a month for HBO when the house down the street that has a cable system pays only $10.00, and even less if he gets a package deal with another service? The pricing of programming is so far out of whack that it makes the desire for piracy by the cable pirates picayune by comparison.

ROBERT E. MAY JR.

San Marcos

EDITOR'S NOTE: The retail prices for General Instrument's VideoCipher equipment given in the story, which were provided to The Times by the manufacturer, are indeed lower than what the products are selling for at many outlets, in part because of inventory shortages. The author of the letter is a field representative for the K-SAT Army, a national group that represents the interests of satellite dish owners.

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