It’s back: Cablevision deadline looms again

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Joan Gilroy of Cablevision tells the Town Board in September of the company’s decision to stop sending an analog signal.

If you’re a Cablevision customer, you may need to get a converter box soon to unscramble your favorite programs. Otherwise, you will see them disappear on Valentine’s Day, February 14, when Cablevision turns off the analog signals it is still transmitting for certain regional channels.

Cablevision maintains that digital service improves picture quality and allows for a wider selection of digital programs.

The Federal Communications Commission mandated the conversion from analog to digital signals as of 2009 but didn’t require cable companies to stop providing analog signals through their lines.

Cablevision last year warned Shelter Island customers that the town’s service was slated for the conversion by August 31, 2011. That deadline was extended to late September in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and delayed again as the company attended to other parts of Long Island first.

Once the conversion takes place, even those Cablevision customers with new high definition television sets capable of receiving digital signals will need conversion boxes to receive Cablevision’s scrambled programming — unless all they subscribe to is basic programming. The latest digital TVs can handle those unscrambled signals.

Cablevision is looking to complete the conversion in all areas it serves, according to Sarah Chaikin, Cablevision spokesperson.

In the last year, the company has gradually been converting all its customers across the New York metro region to digital signals, she said in a written statement sent in response to questions. Conversion boxes are necessary no matter how recently you may have purchased your television set.

The good news is you won’t have to dig into your own pocket to pay for the conversion — at least for a while. Cablevision will provide you free converter boxes for as many televisions as there are in your house without cost, according to a statement. Each TV needs a box.

“Customers who require new or additional set-top boxes can request to have them sent to their homes, free of charge, or pick them up at any Optimum Store location,” the company said. Optimum stores are located in Southampton and Riverhead.

How long the boxes remain free depends on the level of service a subscriber has, according to Ms. Chaikin. The first year, the boxes will remain free for all subscribers. Some with high level cable service won’t have to pay for the boxes for two years, she said.

That’s a change from what Cablevision had planned when the conversion was set to take place last summer. Then, the company planned to provide a maximum of three boxes without charge and to assess users $6.95 per month for each additional box after a year.

Customers who want to know when the cable box charges will kick in for their own service should contact the company, Ms. Chaikin said.

Cablevision customers in New York City and Connecticut were converted to the digital system many months ago but Long Island has lagged.

“Cablevision is the only cable provider in the country to make its full cable television service available on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch through the free Optimum App without the need for a set-top box,” the statement said.