Cable television providers in the United States are to give away free digital TV equipment to analog subscribers. The move appears to be a goodwill gesture amid claims firms are tricking customers into signing up to more expensive packages.
There appears to be a growing pattern of providers switching major channels from the basic cable package to a premium tier. In most cases the premium tier isn’t available on analog cable, so also requires the purchase of a converter box. When customers complain, they are allegedly told it’s a consequence of the digital TV switchover, for which the responsibility lies with the government.
While it’s true there’s an analog-to-digital switchover set for Feb. 17, it only affects over-the-air broadcasts and should make no difference at all to cable television.
The Federal Communications Commission has reportedly launched an investigation into the claims. While cable companies are well within their rights to change their channel line-ups (as long as customers get adequate notice and can cancel their service if they choose to), it’s certainly suspicious timing given the confusion. The chances are there many people who don’t know exactly what the switchover involves, but will be perfectly willing to believe they will have to pay extra cash for the same channels.
The cable firms say the timing is purely coincidental and they want to get as many channels as possible onto the digital cable service. That’s because it’s much more efficient and makes more room for extra channels, HD services and other features such as video on demand.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which represents the major cable firms, has written to Congress to say it will offer free digital cable boxes to existing analog customers until June. However, this offer appears to be through an ‘on request’ basis, meaning only the clued-up can take advantage.
The firms have also agreed to cut down the number of channels moving to digital between January and February next year to minimise confusion.