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Cablevision subscribers face end of free programming for extra TVs
BY EMILY GREENBERG
Shelter Island residents will soon need a cable box for every TV in their homes in order to continue seeing Cablevision programming.
The company has been warning all its subscribers across the New York metro area in recent months by letter that it would stop sending an analog signal carrying basic programming. Modern digital TVs can read the signal without a cable box so customers can connect TVs directly to a cable and see several basic channels.
Once that analog signal is turned off, customers will need a digital cable box for every TV in the house — at first at no extra cost but eventually at an initial charge of $6.95 a month for each box. Even people with a brand-new, digital, flat-screen TV will no longer see cable programming without a separate cable box connected to that TV.
The changeover has already occurred in many other towns across Long Island. Shelter Islanders appear to be among the last people in the area to continue receiving the analog signal.
Peter McCracken, a full-time resident and real estate agent at Corcoran Realty, subscribes to Cablevision’s Gold Package. He said that once he has to pay for all the boxes he needs in another year, he will have to downgrade his service to lower his costs.
“I’m kind of annoyed. It seems like just another way for them to get more money.” Mr. McCracken said.
“I think the box should just be one flat rate” to buy, said Patrick O’Halloran, a full-time Shelter Island resident and recent college graduate. “There shouldn’t be a monthly charge.”
Cablevision initially planned to stop analog service on Shelter Island on August 31 but extended the deadline to late September because of power outages caused by Hurricane Irene, according to Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty. If Cablevision had kept its original deadline, viewers getting their power back here would have turned on their TVs only to see a message from Cablevision that they needed a digital cable box to see any programming.
Customers can get up to three cable boxes free of charge at the Southampton or Riverhead Cablevision offices or they can call Cablevision and request them to be delivered. A monthly rental fee of $6.95 for each will be imposed after a year.
“We are clearly moving to an all digital future,” said Cablevision spokesperson Sarah Lyons. “We have already discontinued analog service in New York City and Connecticut and are extending a variety of offers to our Long Island customers to help make this transition.”
In 2009, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) mandated that all television stations broadcasting over the air begin transmitting digitally. That meant people using old TVs with antennae needed to buy a converter to read the digital signal and turn it into programming those TVs could process.
The law, however, did not require Cablevision and other cable companies to stop providing limited analog signals through their lines.
Cablevision spokesperson Lyons did not specify why analog services would no be stopped. On Cablevisions’ website, the company makes the claim that they are phasing out analog service to offer more channels with better quality.
“This is what has to be done,” said Shelter Island Town Councilman Peter Reich. “Whether they have to charge for the boxes like this, I don’t know.”
“How people are going to be affected financially is the only negative aspect,” he added. “It’s not a good time for people. Everything is going up … It’s a business and they are trying to eke out any penny they can.”
Senior citizens especially may be rattled by the transition because they may not be up to date with the latest digital technology. That’s why Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he was working closely with Karin Bennett of Senior Services to explain the issue to the elderly.
He said he had asked a Cablevision official, Director of Government Affairs Joan Gilroy, to come to the Town Board work session at Town Hall on September 13 at 1 p.m. to clear up any confusion. Ms. Gilroy, he said, will bring all necessary equipment to show how to set up the new cable boxes.
“I am making it clear I want to protect my Shelter Island friends and neighbors because the cost is getting out of control,” Mr. Dougherty commented.
Aside from satellite services, Cablevision is the only ground-based game in town when it comes to television and Internet. The town’s franchise agreement with Cablevision is up in August next year. Mr. Reich said he was hoping that, by then, the town might be able renegotiate the contract to curb the digital box fees, or that Verizon might extend its fiber-optic FiOS service to Shelter Island by then, giving people more of a choice.
There are benefits that come with a digital cable box, according to Cablevision’s Ms. Lyons. “It delivers many more channels and choices” than the analog signal did, “including thousands of free selections, high definition programs, and other interactive services like News 12 interactive.”
The exact day when digital cable boxes will be required here had not been set as Cablevision was still restoring service from Hurricane Irene this week. It probably will happen sometime around September 24, according to Mr. Dougherty.