Comcast: Chicago Going All Digital By July

If you’re one of those stone-age-type people who live in Chicago and don’t yet have a digital cable box, you’ll be getting one in July. Comcast has nearly completed a $400 million dollar upgrade and will discontinue analog broadcasts this summer. Customers who plug their cable directly into their TV will receive only local channels following the official switch. From the Chicago Tribune:

Completion of the upgrade means all Comcast customers that have basic service will need to exchange their analog set-top boxes for digital set-top boxes. The cable company will not charge an additional fee or raise rates for current analog customers, Schaefer said.

“The vast majority of our Chicago customers already have digital service, but for the customers with basic service, they will get a new box,” he said.

The rollout to all-digital begins in Chicago next week. Customers in neighborhoods that first undergo the upgrade now are being notified they need a digital box. The boxes can be picked up at a Comcast office or mailed to customers if requested.

Supposedly, following the conversion, Comcast will be able to add up to 120 HD channels and increase internet speeds. No word on what that’s going to cost. —MEGHANN MARCO

Comcast near finish of digital upgrade [Chicago Tribune]
(Photo: rocketjim54)

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  1. acambras says:

    Maybe they’re saying that there won’t be a rate increase for customers who get switched from analog to digital, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they change the channel lineup on those customers (and not for the better). A couple of years ago, I got a letter from Comcast about how they were making their channel lineup better for customers by grouping channels according to type (sports channels together, kids’ channels together, etc.). In the course of the “rearrangement,” some channels were eliminated for people with my tier of service (the ones that come to mind are Animal Planet and TV Land).

    This may be a case of same price, but getting less for your money. Kind of like cable’s version of the Cadbury Creme Egg.

  2. Underpants Gnome says:

    Looks annoying, I have 3 tv’s, with only one attached to a digital box and the other two hooked to just basic analog cable.

    Lost in the corporate-speak here is that if I want more than the 5 locals on that TV in the bedroom, I have to get a digital box for that tv, and the same for the one in the basement.

    Oh well, I guess it gives me an excuse to call in and re-negotiate my rates back down.

  3. soupdujour says:

    In Boston, they require a box for cable (analog or digital). A few years ago, an analog box was around $2/month, digital box was $4 or $5. Now they are both the same price closer to $5. Sounds to me they just want to charge everyone $5/month for every TV they have in the house (just like satellite). An analog box is probably 10+ years old and only costs $60 to buy (yet they change $60/year to rent).

    In Chicago, they might say the digital box wont cost any more than analog, but I suspect they overcharge for the analog box.

  4. enm4r says:

    The first company (out of Comcast/RCN) to offer me the option to recieve only the HD tier of channels and pay proportionally will have my service for a very long time. I still don’t understand the logic to this. I think an “HD Only” package would sell decently well, and I would even be willing to pay half of what I’m paying now (while receiving 20% of the channels.)

    I have a feeling this will be another Cadbury incident, and Comcast will conveniently adjust their “standard”/digital tiers to grab some more cash.

  5. dragonflight says:

    @Underpants Gnome: agreed. I have one HDTV and the rest are just plugged in. The fact that I *don’t* have to rent a box for the extra TVs is one of the few things keeping me from switching to satellite (I’m already infinitely more satisfied with AT&T DSL).

    And for the “no extra fee part”: they mean for the first box. Every additional box costs $5 a month, no purchase option available at the current time. Sounds like its time to dig up the dishnetwork pamphlets

  6. acambras says:

    @dragonflight:

    I’m moving at the end of the month. I’ve signed up with AT&T for a package that includes phone service, their DSL (which I’ve been happy with), and DishNetwork (provided we can get a decent signal at the new apartment).

    I am really hoping that everything goes well with DishNetwork so that I can tell Comcast to stick it.

  7. 2Legit2Quit says:

    Can someone explain this to me? I have just a coaxial cable hooked up to my television w/ about 64 channels from Comcast. I don’t know what the service is called. I’m assuming since there is no digital set-top box that I have analog cable. Correct or no?

    Also, dragonflight, unfortunately for me I live right next to McGuire Air Force Base so no satellite :( Every time a plane flies over the signal is gone.

  8. axiomatic says:

    What about us Houstonians who are right in the middle of Time Warner leaving (GOOD RIDDANCE!!!) and Comcast (the internet speaks poorly of you..) is on its way in to our homes.

    Will we Houstonians see this “digital only” nirvana? Or do we have to suffer with Time Warners crappy QAM implementation?

  9. Chongo says:

    damn… there goes my trick with buying only internet service and splitting the cable into my TV. Now I actually have to pay for cable?

  10. Underpants Gnome says:

    @MaxPayne3476:
    Correct. What you have is what they’re getting rid of in Chicago.

  11. MFfan310 says:

    Here in beautiful Fort Wayne, Indiana, Crapcast… I mean Comcast, is also the local cable monopoly, and I haven’t heard about them doing a similar thing here. Maybe they’re waiting to make the announcement that they’ll do this until after Verizon finally rolls out FiOS TV here (they’re telling us May or June). But wouldn’t that defy corporate logic, causing a lot of Crapcast customers to switch to FiOS TV in the process?

    And believe it or not, we’ve actually gotten by with old-fashioned rabbit ears for the last 2 years, as Crapcast wants to charge us $63 a month for digital cable. When FiOS TV (at $43 a month) arrives here, we’ll get that, but for now, the ol’ antenna will suffice.

  12. isadora says:

    I feel your pain Chongo! *sob*

    I hate Comcast! And considering I currently pay for internet and phone? And it’s still $100! GAH.

  13. triple says:

    Comcast is in general a really great company in my experience. Their internet is SOLID, rock solid, and the new boosting is pushing initial speeds to about 25mb/s.

    I think my new DVR box has dual HD tuners, too. sweet.

  14. tracilyns says:

    so what does this mean for those of us who get TV the WAY old fashioned way via an antenna? no more free TV for us? do i have to bite the cable/satellite bullet and start to pay for something i rarely use?

  15. FLConsumer says:

    Comcast & Time Warner use identical hardware, at least in FL. Not sure why they can’t get it right, but their digital boxes SUCK. The interfaces might have been good for the late 1980’s, but they’re unacceptable now. Ugly, difficult to navigate (compared to others), slow, buggy, and their DVRs suck.

    While I’d love to see better video & audio quality b/c of digital, chances are they’ll just compress the crap out of the signal and you’ll get a worse-looking and worse-sounding channel than before. At a $5/TV premium.

  16. Snakeophelia says:

    If anyone from Chicago is lurking here, can I just say how much I like your city? I’m here on business this week and I can’t get over how NICE everyone is. Of course, I currently live in Philadelphia, where you consider yourself lucky if waiters don’t spit in your food, so the bar is set pretty low, but still.

  17. juri squared says:

    Aw crap. I’m in the “losing my ‘free’ cable” boat!

    Snakeophelia: Thanks! I like it here too!

  18. bgrigson says:

    Your local broadcasters will still offer a terrestrial signal when the switch goes to digital broadcasting in 2009. I’m completely jaded with this whole mess and thinking about dumping cable all together. It is such a waste. The only thing I’ll miss is live sports. Other than that I can just download the show via my Tivo, Apple’s iTunes or pull a show down on my computer.

    The compression that is used on digital cable is so bad I can’t watch it. Which is why I opted to keep my analog signal…until I figured out it was just a compressed version of Dish sent through Grande Communications analog service. Ugh.

  19. roamer1 says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Comcast turn off analog in other markets where they have deployed all-digital service and where there’s demand for more HD content, such as here in Atlanta. (There are still quite a few Comcast markets that don’t have ADS yet and where analog is likely to stay around for longer, such as Chattanooga.)

    The “box on every TV” requirement that comes with that will almost certainly push some people over to satellite, where “box on every TV” has been the case for years — and is likely to result in lots of angry tots in households that decide not to pay for more digital boxes.

  20. 2Legit2Quit says:

    Chongo, don’t worry about the internet portion. I’ve been with comcast hi-speed from their start of taking over Garden State Cable and the internet has definitely been rock solid for me. Customer service is 24/7 if you god forbid need it and I’ve had issues like routers that crapped out and they’ve sent tech support the same day to replace my router free of charge. They even let me keep the old one for no apparent reason.

    No complaints here for their internet nor cable service.

  21. benko29 says:

    are digital boxes proprietary to the given region/cable provider? is there any reason why these things can’t be just built into the tv set? anyone know?

    here in toronto, the cable is provided by rogers. if you have old analog cable, they still support it, but you can’t sign up for it new. i wanted *basic* analog cable back in january but couldn’t get it. so i caved and got digital cable, and i must say, it’s actually better. the picture quality doesn’t seem to have degraded at all (except for the odd blocky looking artifacts), and having a guide is dope. also the free rogers on demand stuff is fun to watch when nothing else is on.

  22. theinsanefurry says:

    ***The cable company will not charge an additional fee or raise rates for current analog customers***

    I call BS, they will find a way to bump rates up, and probably with Chicago’s blessing.

  23. PhilK says:

    @FLConsumer: I feel your pain man. Until just recently I had one of those SA Explorer 8000 boxes which is powered by squirrels…and lazy ones at that. Now I’ve just got to figure out why I’m paying more for internet when I don’t have cable TV anymore. If that’s not anti-consumer and abusive of their monopoly power, I’m not sure what is.

    @Benko: What you’re talking about is CableCard and a large amount of HDTVs have CableCard built in. Now the fun part is trying to get your cable monopoly to provide you with a CableCard. Supposedly in June (July?) they’re going to be FCC mandated to provide cable boxes that use CableCard, so maybe they’ll improve their flawed implementation since they’ll be stuck with it too…or more likely they’ll just whine to the FCC and bend us over again. Anyone successfully gotten firewire enabled on their cable box? That’s been mandated since ~2 years ago and that’s just gone wonderfully.

  24. Seacub says:

    Comcast is doing the same in Seattle in the next few months. I just moved this weekend and they gave me a very high pressured sales pitch to upgrade to digital. I refuse to have it, I don’t want it. But they did give me “enhanced basic” and the only difference is now I have a tiny converter box of some kind (which my Tivo hates) and i have On Demand (which I don’t want). The tech who came out confirmed that in about 2 months they will be taking everyone off analog cable and delivering these little boxes all over the city.

  25. coloradogray says:

    All of the big cable companies (comcast, time warner, ect) have been working their way towards this for awhile now. Most of the time one will find that the lowest level of digital service is actually about $5 less than full analog. Given the cost of renting the box it of cource evens out. In some markets its even cheaper than analog. The cable companies consider shoving a digital box in every home an investment because you need a digital box to order On Demand movies and the like which is a major cash cow.