Cablevision’s Optimum TV is finishing a conversion to all-digital service during the next week that requires installing cable boxes — leaving some viewers who didn’t get the boxes without their usual service.
The boxes are still available free until August 7 in the New Jersey/New York metro area. Boxes will restore the older nondigital “analog” stations, which are the basic ones, like the New York City TV stations, as well as permit a full range of digital channels that the company is trying to market.
According to the Optimum letter mailed to customers, Optimum stated “To be sure you have a digital cable box or CableCard, tune to Ch. 133 on each TV. If you cannot view this channel, then you need equipment”.
For now, the digital boxes are free, but in one or two years, a charge will kick in. It’s now $6.95 per box per month, on top of whatever level of program service the customer takes, which ranges from less than $18 for basic up to more than $110 for the top-level service. On-demand channels add even more.
In order to ensure you get your additional equipment, Cablevision is stating that you need to contact them as soon as possible. You still will have access to the Optimum App, which lets you watch live TV on your iPad, iPod or iPhone, just not your TV! You can contact Optimum at 1-866-472-0121 and at the Main Menu press 1, then choose the last option in order to speak to a representative, or you can go right to the Optimum store and request the devices.
Cablevision serves about 3 million customers in the New York metro market. Those who checked their mail and acted got their boxes. But some waited. In recent weeks, the service switched over to all-digital, thus orphaning the analog channels and showing a blue screen with a message saying a digital cable box is needed to get this channel. Analog channels have been converted to digital to squeeze more channels into the cable technology.
When the Highland area was switched over, Ann Signorelli still got TV service on her main, modern digital set that already had a box. “The other sets were cut off,” she said. She ordered three boxes to keep those sets running. But she’s making note of when the one-year free use of boxes runs out and is already thinking about the competition, which is Dish Network and Direct TV, and hoping Verizon’s FiOS may come here. In a year, maybe something else will have a special deal,” Signorelli said. “Nearly all of our cable customers today have digital service,” Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said, explaining that it delivers more channels and choices, including video on demand, high definition and advanced interactive services.
Cablevision is now all-digital in New York City, Connecticut and Long Island, and we are currently making this conversion in Westchester and the Hudson Valley,” he said.
Customers who still need boxes can get a technician to come for free through August 7, or can go to a Cablevision store to pick them up. Or they can call Cablevision and have the boxes shipped.
Some customers with modern digital sets can still get some digital channels without a box if their sets have built-in tuners known as QAM. The continuing rental of the digital boxes is a case of “rate creep,” said Phillip Dampier, editor of Stop the CAP, a Rochester-based nonprofit consumer group that advocates on cable issues and opposes limits for online bandwidth usage. The charge for boxes isn’t supposed to be perpetual, but federal law fails to set a time limit, he said. “By now, it’s more than paid for, but that rental fee keeps getting charged to you forever. It’s just another revenue source for them,” Dampier said. Program service is costly enough, he said, adding: “Consumers are tapped out.” He said that in Canada, people can buy their own box and cable companies must use it.
Since U.S. regulators haven’t fixed the endless rental fee and rates keep rising, Dampier advised cable users to both shop around and negotiate hard when the free-box term ends. Cable companies have been known to bend when customers use the word “cancel,” he said. Dampier said he expects Time Warner Cable will eventually move to the digital boxes for all.