Cable television

How Spectrum’s Digital Conversion Affects Cable TV Consumers


Charter Communications has a huge task ahead of it as it distributes over 4 million control boxes this year to accommodate the cable television company’s shift to a fully digital system.

What this means for the typical cable customer: Plugging a coaxial cable into the back of the TV won’t work. A box or other digital adapter will be needed to view most of your favorite shows.

On March 27, all televisions connected by coaxial cable in the local area served by Spectrum will turn off. The picture will be interrupted forever if your connection has a single coaxial cable plugged into the cable socket on the TV.

“We’re going to go all digital, which you think modern businesses would have done already.” Tom Rutledge, managing director of Charter Communication, the parent company of Spectrum, said in a recent presentation to Wall Street analysts at The Breakers, a luxury resort in Palm Springs, Florida. “We need to deploy 4.4 million set-top boxes this year to free up spectrum and take advantage of our network capacity. “

Spectrum’s transition to digital will limit piracy by jamming the signal while allowing the company to bring a host of new, potentially expensive services to market. Monthly bills could increase as the Spectrum offers more on-demand and high-definition content, as well as “new features” not yet specified. Switching to the fully digital signal also frees up more bandwidth for faster internet speeds.

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At Binghamton headquarters there was a race for digital adapters. A temporary tent enclosure was erected, staff directed traffic, and employees distributed coffee and snacks to occupy customers during the rush of business at its Plaza Drive location.

When analog systems go down in late March, expect another rush to customer service centers in Binghamton, Elmira, Corning, Hornell, Norwich and Oneonta. Secondary digital units are generally more compact than the primary primary television set.

Promises of more and better services have done nothing to appease some unhappy customers, who see the transition as just another drain on a service whose prices have continued to rise. They have little interest in seeing the company’s “future innovation path” that Rutledge says will come with the fully digital network. The reactions on Facebook were swift and largely furious.

“I plan to ditch them altogether,” wrote Hillcrest’s Lori Kropp, distraught that she was forced to fit all of the televisions in her house with control boxes.

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Spectrum offers digital adapters free of charge for one to five years depending on the category of service. After the free period ends, each box will cost $ 11.75 per month for old Time Warner customers, or $ 6.99 for newer Spectrum pricing plans.

There is a workaround, but most only work with the Spectrum Internet service. Spectrum compatible devices like Roku or Xbox One, or a wired card compatible TV will let you skip the setup.

Not all are unhappy with the change.

“We added two boxes to keep cable TV in the bedrooms,” said Keith Haywood of Endicott. “I would have liked to have added them earlier. This is a big improvement over the basic television that we previously had on these televisions. I don’t like the cost, but nothing compares to what we get. “

In fact, Binghamton and the rest of upstate New York are at the back of the digital transition. In major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, the shift began as early as 2010. By 2019, all of Charter Communications’ 16.5 million cable customers will be on a fully digital network, according to the company’s schedule.

“The traditional cable television industry is dying,” said Jeff Kagan, telecommunications industry analyst. “They are turning their business into tomorrow.”

It is difficult to say whether a modernized network will be enough to stem the tide of spectrum defectors. After six consecutive quarters of lost customers – a total of 294,000 television subscribers – the company added 2,000 customers to its lists in the last quarter of 2017.

“Digital is always much more efficient because you can compress the digital signal,” Kagan said. “You send exactly what you need. You can extract much more signal from the digital network. ”

Rutledge said the complete digital transition will allow Charter Communications to achieve “the kind of performance we expect from the assets we have gathered.”

In Binghamton’s service territory, there is also lingering resentment over a broadcast rights dispute that has struck the Binghamton Fox affiliate out of the Spectrum network. Now in its second month, a war of words has erupted between the two with little indication that a settlement is in sight.

There is no doubt that the switch-over and the protracted dispute over retransmission rights, as with any change in spectrum policy, is prompting customers to talk about switching to other options – satellite TV such as Dish or Direct TV, or cut the cord entirely.

“I got rid of them,” said Brian Spear of Binghamton. “I went to satellite.”

One thing is certain, analysts say the digital transition is unlikely to result in bill cuts for Charter Communications’ customer worth $ 42 billion.

“I wouldn’t expect this to save customers money,” Kagan said. “Customers will pay more in the end.”

Follow Jeff Platsky on twitter @JeffPlatsky


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