Cable Subscribers Won’t See This Sneaky Fee Coming - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Cable Subscribers Won’t See This Sneaky Fee Coming

KHQ.COM - Local stations, public, government, and educational channels are free programming to owners of a digital tuner box, digital television with a (built in) QAM tuner, or most all HD-TVs, but those channels may not be freebies for long. On Monday, December 10, a little known measure took effect that was passed in October by the FCC allowing cable companies and service providers the option to begin scrambling "free" channels unless a customer subscribes and pays for their service. That measure took effect Monday and in many areas across the country, may impact your channel selection.

For cable companies it is optional whether they wish to scramble or encrypt their signal to unsubscribed customers, only to then rent out additional cable boxes to paying customers, one for each desired television in a person's home. The claim is that encrypting the signal will enhance efficiency by both eliminating the need for a disconnect visit by a technician and save customers the wait for a cable hookup. Also, reducing theft (watching free television you didn't pay for) would improve customer service.

"By permitting cable operators to join their competitors in encrypting the basic service tier, the Commission has adopted a sensible, pro-consumer approach that will reduce overall in-home service calls and accelerate cable operators' transition to all-digital networks," said Michael Powel, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) in a statement. According to consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, "(t)he cable companies, with the FCC's blessing, have figured out how to pick the pockets of cable customers and charge them for every television they have – even when they don't really need a cable box."

Though none of the six major cable companies has announced a signal encryption date, the FCC acknowledged that its rule change would "adversely affect a small number" of cable subscribers.

Comcast released the following statement: "Currently, we do not have any announcements to make. Should we plan any changes in the future, we will notify any impacted customers well ahead of time."  

What do you think? Have we gotten too used to free programming, or is this just another hole in the wallet?  

Contributed by Ben Buckmiller, Technical Media Producer with KHQ. Email him at:  ben.buckmiller@khq.com

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