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Delving Into On Demand

Reader Stephen Borts wants to know about new TV viewing choices, saying, I've heard a lot about how we'll have this "On Demand" available from various cable companies, but I haven't seen it advertised. Is "On Demand" separate from the "Triple Play: Voice, Video & Data"? Would you explain what these are, and when they'll be available?

"On Demand" is a general term for TV programming that's available whenever you want it. It may be offered on a digital cable system, on the new TV services that phone companies are starting offer by phone companies, and, in some cases, over the Internet.

In the case of cable, generally only a limited number of shows are available on demand, either as part of your subscription or on a pay-per-view basis. On-demand is generally available now on nearly all digital-cable systems, but you'll have to contact your cable provider for details.

The phone companies' systems -- when and if they reach their full potential -- will be able to offer all programming on demand. Internet programming currently is available only for a limited variety of shows through a confusing variety of channels. And most of the time, you'll have to watch the programming on a computer, not a TV set.

SEEING DOUBLE. "Triple play" refers to the ability of either cable or phone companies to offer TV, phone, and data service over the same connection, though today many providers can offer only two of the three. In most places, because of both technical and regulatory issues, cable companies are further along in their efforts to offer phone service than phone companies are in providing TV. Both can generally offer high-speed data service.

The availability of triple-play services varies by location. Where I live, outside of Washington, D.C., Comcast (CMCSA) currently offers triple play, though I don't think it has signed up a lot of voice customers. Verizon (VZ) offers broadband data and voice over their new fiber-optic network, but not yet TV. I think that by the middle of next year, most cities will have at least one triple-play carrier.

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