June 4, 2008 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Will I still have cable next year?

Two years ago I signed up for high-speed internet through the cable company. After it was hooked up, I also started receiving cable tv. It's the basic cable package, I guess. None of the premium channels. I called the cable company to tell them I didn't want the package, and they told me they would shut it off. They didn't.

After my first bill came, I was surprised to see that I wasn't being charged for the tv, just the internet. I called them again, and again was told it would be shut off.

Two years later. I've had cable tv all of this time for free. And now I enjoy a lot of shows. If the cable company were to shut it off, obviously I wouldn't be in a position to complain. In the meantime, since I've called them more than once and mentioned that I'm getting cable for free, I pretty much wash my hands of any guilt associated with the situation.

However, I know everything has to go digital in February 2009. Obviously, if there are upgrades involved, I won't be getting them from the cable company. I would like to keep getting cable. If it's going to be shut off next February, I'll need to start paying for the service afterwards. If that's the case, it would help me to start putting a little away for that now.

So when this change-over happens, am I going to lose my cable tv until I pay for an upgrade? Or will the thing just switch over without me noticing?
posted by nushustu to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The 'everything' that's going digital in Feb 2009 is full-power broadcasting, not cable.
(See FAQ)

Your cable company might do something special, but that's not what the digital transition is about.
posted by MtDewd at 11:07 AM on June 4, 2008

Obviously there is no guarantee that you will continue to get service that you're not paying for, so really you should be prepared for it to stop working at any time (not just Feb '09).

With that said, it appears that the cable companies are legally obligated to continue to support analog TVs until 2012. The article says that cable companies could either continue sending an analog version of their service (which might still work for you) or they could give everyone free converter boxes (which most likely would not work for you).
posted by burnmp3s at 11:12 AM on June 4, 2008

You'll be fine.

It's the over the air broadcasters that had to switch to sending a digital rather than analog signal.

The cable company receives this digital signal "converts" it and transmits it to your television. Since several stations began transmitting digital signals years ago (Discovery for one) the cable company made their upgrade years ago.

The only TVs that are going to go "dark" are those not hooked up to cable/satellite (using antennae) that don't have a digital converter box. ($40 at a local store, free if you get the coupon from the government)

Just to warn you, one day the cable company will send an auditor to your neighborhood and they'll trap your line and you won’t get the TV signal anymore. They won’t charge you at least I never heard of that unless it was a case of obvious theft (e.g. running a line from the neighbor’s house) even then they usually just cut the service.

Of course when they set you up in the first place they may have put a malfunctioning trap on your line, so when you called and they sent the auditors out, everything looked ok to them because the trap was there. Little did they know...
posted by thewalrusispaul at 11:13 AM on June 4, 2008

"I signed up for high-speed internet through the cable company. After it was hooked up, I also started receiving cable tv."

Did the cable hook itself up to the TV?

But don't worry, the cable company will convert the off-air digital signal to analog until 2012.
posted by Marky at 11:39 AM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: Marky, good point. There is a cable outlet in the wall. I plugged the tv into it: instant cable. I'll admit, if I wanted to be super-ethical, I could unplug it and get some rabbit ears, but c'mon.
posted by nushustu at 12:13 PM on June 4, 2008

If you went with the rabbit ears, you would need a tv with a digital tuner next February. Or a converter box. You could even get a coupon!
posted by Marky at 12:49 PM on June 4, 2008

The reason you were getting "free" cable is that they didn't put what's called a trap on your line. This is because you are a paying customer and the basic channels don't really cost the company that much. In fact, it would probably be more expensive for them to roll out a technician to climb the poll and install the trap, than to just let you have it.

The thing is, the cable that you are getting is probably actually analog. Most of the time, the digital cable that your provider is offering in the higher packages requires a cable box. And if you are using a direct connect, I can almost guarantee that in 2009, your connection will most likely stop.

The company I use has been indicating that there will be three ways to get service after the switch, one will be to use a cable box. Another will be to buy a digital to analog converter, and the last will be to buy a TV with a built in digital tuner. These final two may be of use to you, but because those basic channels will be transmitted as a digital signal in the future, it might not be receivable for free anymore.
posted by quin at 2:39 PM on June 4, 2008

Just to warn you, one day the cable company will send an auditor to your neighborhood and they'll trap your line and you won’t get the TV signal anymore.

This is true, but it's a really indefinite period. I used to work for a cable provider in Boston and the longest I ever heard of someone getting free basic cable was 12 years. The coming digital broadcast is just going to be letterboxed and re-transmitted as analog to basic subscribers by your cable company.

Your cable has to be "shut off at the tap"-- meaing the cable company has to have someone physically comeout and disconnect your cable-- for the previous occupant's cable to be completely shut off. There's a remote fix for the scrambled ("pay" channels), but, in Boston anyway, a tech is not sent out to physically disco 95% of the time, meaning any new occupant that wants only basic cable can probably run coaxial from the outlet to their tv and find a lot of channels.

Your situation is even more labor intensive-- the cable running into your house is paid for and a filter would have to be installed to keep the TV channels from showing. My guess is that they'll never get around to it. The last time you called, the customer service agent put in a work order that got ignored in favor of new installs. The work order is lost in a sea of missed appointments and is never coming back.

As for the HD part of it, the cable company is going to downsample their feed and send it out to their non-premium customer base. It's just an extra step in the service that you and tens of thousands of others are already getting.

So the short answer is: "If you're already getting free cable TV, it's very unlikely that anything will change after the digital conversion; you, other people getting free cable, and paying Basic subscribers are probably going to get an analog feed letterboxed by the cable company just as a rote exercise."
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:22 PM on June 4, 2008

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