You might think that a television channel would take up quite a bit of electrical "space," or bandwidth, on a cable. In reality, each television signal is given a 6-megahertz (MHz, millions of cycles per second) channel on the cable. The coaxial cable used to carry cable television can carry hundreds of megahertz of signals -- all the channels you could want to watch and more. (For more information, see How Television Works.)
In a cable TV system, signals from the various channels are each given a 6-MHz slice of the cable's available bandwidth and then sent down the cable to your house. In some systems, coaxial cable is the only medium used for distributing signals. In other systems, fiber-optic cable goes from the cable company to different neighborhoods or areas. Then the fiber is terminated and the signals move onto coaxial cable for distribution to individual houses.
When a cable company offers Internet access over the cable, Internet information can use the same cables because the cable modem system puts downstream data -- data sent from the Internet to an individual computer -- into a 6-MHz channel. On the cable, the data looks just like a TV channel. So Internet downstream data takes up the same amount of cable space as any single channel of programming. Upstream data -- information sent from an individual back to the Internet -- requires even less of the cable's bandwidth, just 2 MHz, since the assumption is that most people download far more information than they upload.
Putting both upstream and downstream data on the cable television system requires two types of equipment: a cable modem on the customer end and a cable modem termination system (CMTS) at the cable provider's end. Between these two types of equipment, all the computer networking, security and management of Internet access over cable television is put into place.