Is your cable company forcing you to rent or purchase a converter box?

The FCC states the following information for a consumer who is connected to a cable or satellite television service:

If you subscribe to cable service, the DTV transition should not affect any TV sets that are connected to your cable services.

End of story right?  Not quite.

Complaints are beginning to surface as cable and satellite providers deal with the digital transition coming in February of 2009.  Consumers are turning on their television sets to find missing channels from their basic cable lineup.

Charter Communications customer is faced with 3 missing channels:

Charter took off 3 of our main in state channels that most people in this area watch. I called and asked why, as they gave us no notice, and they explained to see these stations we must upgrade to their digital converter box and install one on each tv.

Referencing back to the FCC’s FAQ on the digital transition provides a clear cut answer for cable providers and digital programming:

Can my cable company make me get a box to receive the cable channels I receive today without a box?

Some cable companies have decided to switch to digital service. This is a business decision made by the cable companies and is not required by the federal government. Your cable company may decide to move certain cable channels off of its analog service tier and onto a digital service tier, or it may decide to switch to all-digital service at once, so that there is no analog service tier for any subscribers.

The same Charter Communications customer had this to say about upgrading their cable service to receive the missing channels:

…the charge for each box we need (4) is $5.00 a month extra. Wow, it is going to be costly making this change. I hope to find out more about it and what is exactly necessary. I want to know the most economic route with quality of course.

$20 a month for 4 digital cable boxes adds a grand total of $240 to this cable customer’s bill each year, which seems like an unfair cost incurred during these tough economic times.  Unfair as it may seem, the FCC has given strict clarification on their webpage which enables cable and satellite providers to charge for rental of converter boxes.

If your cable company decides to move some or all of the channels it provides onto a digital service tier, it may notify you that you need to get “digital cable” equipment to continue receiving that cable service. This may include renting or purchasing a digital cable set-top box or purchasing a digital cable ready TV equipped with a “CableCARD” slot. The digital cable equipment is different from the digital-to-analog converter boxes that are used to receive over-the-air broadcast signals.

The above FCC statement leaves few options open, because consumers who want to purchase a converter box for use with basic cable service are limited to boxes only authorized by their cable company.  None of the OTA (Over-the-Air) digital-to-analog converter boxes that qualify for use with $40 dtv coupon cards are compatible with cable service.

Are you a cable or satellite customer affected by the digital transition?  We want to hear from you, please comment by using the form just below this post.


  1. In fact, these are two different transitions. But just to ease the confusion, the cable industry has instituted a quiet period.

  2. Matt says:

    Cable companies are more than welcome to go all digital anytime they want, as long as they give me the basic tier in clear QAM. (and don’t change the channel numbers every two hours!) I don’t want any boxes.. I don’t need boxes now and I’m happy.. I would need 4 boxes in my home, and I’m sure the cable company would want me to “rent” their “official” boxes for some ridiculous fee. If they try to do that to me I will be giving them a big digital middle finger.

  3. Henry says:

    Charter is switching to all digital and they are telling us it’s the governments fault that they are charging us for each box this is crazy. What was all the hype about having to buy a digital tv if you still need a box?

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