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You may soon pay a lot more for Spectrum Cable

May 10: The latest phase of Spectrum's move to require that all TVs have a digital converter box to receive a signal is rolling out now. Here's a look at why it's happening and what your options are.

Spectrum Cable is about to get more expensive for some customers.

The company is upgrading its digital television service, so customers will no longer be able to screw their cable line directly into the back of their TV. Instead, they'll need to install a set-top box, for which the company will charge as much as $11.75 per month. That's more than the monthly cost of Netflix or Hulu, just to watch the channels they're already paying for.

And that's as much as $11.75 per television, not per household.

Spectrum said most of its current customers will be eligible to receive one or more digital receivers to use for free for up to five years depending on their cable package, equipment and financial situation.

In terms of eligibility:

  • Customers with "Limited Basic" or "TWC Starter TV" can use two receivers for two years free.
  • Limited Basic or TWC Starter TV customers who qualify for Medicaid can use two receivers free for up to five years.
  • "Expanded Basic" and "TWC Standard TV" customers can use two free receivers for one year.
  • Customers on the "Digital" service tier or "TWC Preferred TV" and above, can use one free receiver for one year.

Other undisclosed factors come into play and some restrictions apply, so customers should check their eligibility with Spectrum.

After free periods expire, it will cost as much as $141 per year, per TV to lease one of Spectrum's converter boxes.

The change applies only to Spectrum customers who have TVs that aren't connected to a digital set-top box, a digital adapter, or a CableCARD (which is inserted directly into digital televisions and other hardware instead of a set-top box). Once the switch to digital service is complete, those sets no longer will be able to get a cable signal.

Once a digital receiver is connected to the set, that TV will be able to receive all of the channels that the subscriber receives. Previously, Spectrum customers who plugged their cable directly into their TV could not receive many of the channels that came with more extensive cable packages.

How to avoid paying for Spectrum's digital converter

TVs connected to a set-top box aren't affected by the change.

Customers cannot buy the digital converter outright from Spectrum to save on the perpetual leasing fees. By renting the converter, Spectrum said, customers can avoid upfront costs, have the most updated equipment and ensure the product is guaranteed through Spectrum, which will provide any associated service and tech support. Customers will also get access to On Demand movies and shows, an interactive guide, a search option and parental controls.

The company has already finished switching most of its markets over to the new format, and has begun making the change in Western New York.

Spectrum has completed the digital conversion in North Tonawanda, Olean, Lockport and Niagara Falls. The City of Buffalo is scheduled to be converted by early next month, the company said.

This latest digital upgrade is different from the one in 2009, when the Federal Communications Commission ordered all television signals in the United States be transmitted digitally. This conversion is specific to Spectrum, which said the digital upgrade will improve service and free up space on its network. It involves encrypting the cable signal, so that it can't be read without the digital converter.

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