Subscriber Sues Comcast For Requiring Customers To Rent Cable Boxes

Hate renting set-top boxes from Comcast? So does one San Francisco Comcast subscriber. He’s suing, claiming that the rental fees are far in excess of what the boxes would be worth on the open market.

From the Suburban Chicago Daily Herald:

The suit, filed Feb. 2, seeks class-action, or group, status on behalf of all Comcast digital-cable service subscribers. Mays asked for a court order barring Philadelphia-based Comcast from making rental of the boxes a requirement for subscribing to its digital service. Consumers can’t buy the boxes separately from retailers, he claimed.

“Comcast does support third-party cable boxes,” Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a telephone interview. She declined to comment further on Mays’s claims.

Unless we are mistaken, Comcast-brand cable boxes are a requirement for certain features such as OnDemand.

Is Comcast is the wrong for forcing you to rent the boxes?

Comcast accused of overcharging for cable box rental [Daily Herald]
(Photo:O Pish Posh)

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  1. philmin says:

    Its 5 bucks a month usually… I get a new one every 2 years or so. Actually seems perfectly fair to me.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @philmin: So you call it fair paying a per tv charge on your cable? Remember analog cable’s days are numbered. After that everyone will have to rent box and thus pay a base service price, but an extra fee per tv. They need to make a standard that tvs can work with directly. We consumers should not allow them to get away with a tv tax.

      • larrymac808 says:

        @Corporate_guy: They’re making (yet another) standard (“tru2way”), but of course we’d all need new TVs (again). Cablecard was the first attempt, but nobody made set top boxes that you could go out and buy, so aside from TiVo, there wasn’t a lot of adoption on that one.

      • philmin says:

        @Corporate_guy:

        Through ATT UVerse, I pay 15 dollars per month for the 3 boxes on my 3 TVs. All in all, I pay about 65 total bucks/month for DVR, HD, and digital cable on all 3. If I had the option of paying 200 bucks per box up front to own it, I would never do it and likely no one else would. Furthermore, if there are any problems with the box, ATT owns it and has to either replace it or fix it, at no charge to me whatsoever. If I owned the box and wasnt renting, Id have to pay for it.

        I actually think what I pay is fair, and the service of the boxes provided with renting is fair. I really dont understand the lawsuit… people will sue over anything.

        • athmsVT says:

          @philmin: First, is your option of paying 200$ valid. With competition, prices would drop and options would improve for the consumer.

          Second, most cable companies operate a virtual monopoly. If you want cable, not only do you have to go with them you must use their equipment. There is a lot of technology that manages media better than the a cable company provided DVR.

          With the FIOS transition to a pure digital back in March my older TV tuner card can no longer be used to watch TV. Some new tuner cards have the ability to take cable cards but not many. The thing is for less than $15 a month for a HD DVR * 12 Months, I can buy a TV Tuner Card. With it there is free software that I can both watch and record shows remotely. The same software can pull in Hulu, and manage my media BitTorrent downloads.

          • Rachacha says:

            @athmsVT: The difference though is with FIoS you can obtain a free STB tuner from Verizon. You don’t get on demand, and you don’t get the onscreen program guide, but you can watch all of your digital television stations. With this option you can then decide, are the On screen guide and On demand worth $5.99/month to me on this television? If not, take the free converter box.

          • emis says:

            @athmsVT: is your option of paying 200$ valid. With competition, prices would drop and options would improve for the consumer.

            I agree… I recall when cable modem’s were $7/mo for rental and were expensive $150-300 to buy…

            These days they cost $3/mo to rent, but you can buy them for about $30-40 new…

            I would imagine that at a non-recording digital box that met w/ some VOD standard (so all cable co’s could use the same box, just like DOCSIS allows the same modems) would end up being fairly cheap, maybe $50-100 ultimately… then suddenly the idea of having to pay $5-6 for a box and remote doesn’t make sense as long as you believe the box will last longer then a year or two in service.

            • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

              @emis: Yeah Emis, that switch to $3 happened about 1 month after I realized “Hey if I pay $7 a month for a modem that’s $85 a year, I could buy one for roughly that price and break even by end of year”

    • ojzitro says:

      @philmin: The question wasn’t on the legality of it Phil, it was whether it was wrong or right. By the way, Comcast is my only option, so the market is rigged.

      You failed to answer my question, and chose to instead cite a completely irrelevant “market value” example. If one product (the renter box) gets you full service that you’re already paying for, and the alternative is a diminished media experience for choosing to own outright, it seems that’s a racket, not a market. It’s protectionism, when the fact is anyone with any internet savvy can just download their shows instead. Opening up new options would retain customers, during a time when more and more options keep presenting themselves, allowing more customers to get rid of service all together.

      If there in no market in which to PURCHASE a product outright, there is no Market Value. The market does not exist.

      • Carias says:

        @ojzitro: The market isn’t rigged. Comcast has a right to offer their specialty service on their own equipment. You can still recieve their digital cable through your own set top box but purchasing one outright could be doing yourself a disservice. Comcast covers repairs and replacements so long as you don’t purposely or through your own neglegence destroy their equipment. If you own your box then you’re on your own.

    • snowburnt says:

      @philmin: it may be fair, but it shouldn’t be required.

    • Shadowman615 says:

      @philmin: Lets see. 2 Regular boxes at $5/month, plus 1 HD box at $7/month.

      So that’s $204/year extra. And I don’t even have a damn DVR.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      @philmin: I have brighthouse – and they don’t charge you a rental fee per-se. But digital cable is more expensive then standard, and they may bundle it into the price as a sort of hidden fee.

      But yeah, when I’m done with the box as long as I return it, I’m good.

  2. sapere_aude says:

    I don’t recall seeing a charge on my bill for a cable box rental. Is it bundled into the cost of your cable package or is it listed as a separate charge? Definitely gonna check my bill when I get home.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @sapere_aude: First one could be free.

    • Rhayader says:

      @sapere_aude: The price for the first box is usually bundled into the digi cable price. Any additional boxes are something like 5 bucks a month each.

      • lunchbox says:

        @Rhayader: My HD box is 6 bucks a month! I think that’s nuts.

        • Rhayader says:

          @lunchbox: Is that for a second box, or do they charge you extra just for having an HD box instead of the SD box?

          I have Time Warner, and they do not charge anything more for an HD box than they do for a standard box. DVR has a monthly charge, and so do additional boxes beyond the first one, but there is no difference in price between HD and SD.

          • sapere_aude says:

            @Rhayader: I’m pretty sure Comcast charges you just to have a HD box. I did see a commercial where they were offering some type of package to new customers where it was no additinal cost. Yet another reason why Comcast really is the worst.

            • emis says:

              @sapere_aude:

              Comcast charges:

              $14.95 for an HD-DVR

              $9.95 for SD-DVR

              So ~$5 for the HD part I guess?

              • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

                @emis: There is also a small fee for Remote rental burried in there as well. I think it’s like $.15 a month. Small, but still feels like your getting bled dry. I mean for the $100 a month I pay for cable service you couldn’t front me an $10 remote?

            • Cyberxion101 says:

              @sapere_aude: They do charge. It’s like an extra seven or eight bucks a month on my bill for an HD-DVR. I’m assuming that given Emis’ example, these rates aren’t standard. Much like the quality of Comcast’s service.

              They had tons of killer content back in Colorado. Here in Santa Fe it’s a fucking joke. They have a handful of movies available On Demand, nine-tenths of them are horror movies, and as far as HD On Demand content goes, they have like four or five movies at a given time. Comcast sucks, but it’s a monopoly in this neck of the woods. I’m seriously considering dropping the box and cutting back on the service. I can spend just as much a month on DVDs as I do Comcast’s service, and in that case I’d be getting something I’d actually watch.

  3. mbz32190 says:

    You can always buy a box on ebay and activate it with Comcast.

    I only have a basic digital converter because they gave it to me for free, but like the whole DTV thing, TV is NOT a right. If you don’t like it, don’t get (digital) cable. Simple as that.

    • tripnman says:

      @mbz32190: Ummm, no. Any box not returned to Comcrap is tagged as stolen. The original account holder will get dinged on their credit reports for the value of the box that was not returned, and the box will not be activated on a new account.

      • ScottRose says:

        @tripnman:

        Any box not returned to Comcrap is tagged as stolen.

        How exactly would it qualify as stolen if the original renter of the box got dinged on their CC for it? Wouldn’t them paying for it make it theirs?

        I know Comcrap might indeed flag it as “stolen”, but that would be pure BS on their part and in no way legally enforceable.

    • OwenKlient says:

      @mbz32190: DTV *is* a public resource, so there is an implicit “right” to it. And forcing consumers to buy or rent unnecessary products is unfair business practice. Either the business convinces consumers to use their products and services through open and fair means, or they can get out of business. There is no “right” to defrauding people.

      • Erwos says:

        @OwenKlient: That’s only true of over-the-air transmissions. Cable is not a public right or resource by any definition.

        • theodicey says:

          @Erwos: Cable is a public utility. It’s not using public airwaves, but how do you think they get cable to your home? They’re granted monopolies on the use of public rights of way and utility poles.

          As utilities, we should be able to regulate cable companies any damn way we please.

          • Erwos says:

            @theodicey: They’re leasing the rights to those polls for money. That makes them private. If you were going to say that anyone should be able to run wires on the polls because they’re public property, I’d agree with that.

            • TaterTom says:

              @Erwos: It’s like a sad lose-lose mix of those situations. Yes, they lease the rights for money. They also include exclusivity and a pinky swear that that one [sometimes two or three on one street] cable company will keep it all looking nice and tidy and not cross property lines, etc. It’s in a city’s best interest to not allow any Joe Schmoe CableCo startup to install equipment, so they can keep their poles neat and tidy, keep everyone from cutting everyone else’s lines, and generally keeping otherwise nice, clean streets from looking like Vietnam:

              [j-walkblog.com]

              The exclusiveness of the contract with each city would come into play in a monopoly argument, I believe, as that is negotiated with each contract.

          • JustThatGuy3 says:

            @theodicey:

            No, they don’t have monopolies, you too can start a cable service in your town, if you want to, and have the financial backing.

            • emis says:

              @JustThatGuy3: you too can start a cable service in your town

              I don’t think that’s true… I think most towns have a charter w/ certain cable companies that gives them exclusivity…

              At least that’s what I’ve been told regarding why we don’t have a 2nd cable provider option in my city despite the fact that 3 neighboring cities do–and I mean literally down the same street w/ same poles they’ve got 2 providers and I’ve got 1…

              Not to mention that FIOS has not been permitted to provide service in my city, and there are some places where FIOS internet is available but not Television (which is why they bundle DirectTV)–it’s not a technical limitation.

      • barty says:

        @OwenKlient: Ahh, the old “public airwaves” argument.

        Cable TV runs over privately owned lines. They may be publicly licensed, but they pay franchise fees to the local government that allows them to operate there and they pay the money to run all the cable, repeaters, etc.

        On the other hand, if cable companies are going to force people to digital cable, then they need to submit to a rule saying that they MUST support 3rd party equipment. That would be a reasonable compromise in my eyes.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @mbz32190: It’s not about being a right, it’s about preserving the openness of the analog system with the new digital systems. Some people don’t want to pay a fee for every tv they hook up, nor do they want to throw away their media centers and tivos because cable companies cause you to lose functionality with 3rd party devices or don’t allow third party devices to work at all.

  4. quail says:

    He stands a chance. Wasn’t it a lawsuit that forced cable companies to accept the fact that people could rewire and split cable lines within their homes and not have to pay for a tech?

    Time Warner allows Tivo users to just rent their scrambler card that plugs into the Tivo box. It would be nice to have more choice when it comes to the box you use. I’d love to have a MythTV setup with a 2 – 1TB hard drives.

    • Erwos says:

      @quail: They don’t “allow” it. They’re forced to do so by the FCC.

    • thezone says:

      @quail: You are right. All terrestrial cable companies have to make their services accessible with the CableCard. Satellite providers are not covered by this. Unfortunately, CableCard has to certify the device for use. Therefore, OpenSource projects like MythTV will most likely never be able to be certified. Most of these problems are because of the DMCA. This is where consumers lost all their rights to copy media. Much too much power has been given to the media giants and cable oligopolies. Since there is no competition we receive the same crappy services with no innovation. I continue to hear right wingers say let market forces do their job. Well there are no market forces here. The DMCA needs to be rewritten with the consumer in mind. Allow real competition with open standards and watch true innovation take off.

  5. ojzitro says:

    So that 120 dollars, not including taxes, you’ve given them for NOTHING is fine? If you had bought it, you could have resold it, or just kept it and modded it.

    If you went to to AT&T to get cell service, and they forced you to “rent” a phone every month for 5 bucks, would that be okay?

    • philmin says:

      @ojzitro:

      You miss the point. There rental charge just contributes to the market value of a phone. If that rental value is way overpriced, people can just choose another service. There is nothing illegal about this and the lawsuit is frivilous. Just because a company is doing something people may not like doesn’t mean they are doing anything illegal, or even immoral.

      • jasonof2000 says:

        @philmin:

        Except in a lot of area’s there is a monopoly of one cable company so the consumer really doesn’t have a choice.

        The way I see it is that you are paying THEM for a service, they should provide you with said box because without it you can’t get the service you paid for.

        • u1itn0w2day says:

          @jasonof2000: Exactly , this is the old ma bell all over again where you could only buy phones from them and had to pay by jack at one point .

          I know people who were given hassles on boxes they returned YEARS ago but they wouldn’t go back more than a couple of years in the records to check .The boxes were one of the original models from like 20 years ago .And yet it had to be returned to get their over priced digital activated .But those 20 year old boxes were on the bill almost 5 years after they got digital .

          And that’s another thing .After even as little as a year or two the boxes you are renting are already outdated .And with the money they charge and quanity they buy in you mean to tell those boxes haven’t been paid for yet …

          • ScottRose says:

            @u1itn0w2day:

            I agree with the last part. It would be a lot less onerous if the boxes were given on a rent-to-own basis. I.e. you pay $5/mo./box for a couple of years and then it’s yours. Of course then I suppose you’d be responsible for paying to repair it after that time.

            I’m surprised that the cable companies don’t offer to sell you a box outright, however. From their POV if they sold you some boxes for $100 or $200ea. then your cost to move to a new provider is that much higher.

            If I just bought $400 worth of boxes for all my TVs, I’m not switching to FiOS anytime soon and throwing the boxes in the trash. (Err, or eBay them for significantly less money).

      • Corporate_guy says:

        @philmin: Very very few people have the option of a second cable company.

      • morgasco says:

        @philmin: Yeah, for those of use who live in Condominiums and our cable company is set via association rules we are kinda up shit creek without a paddle on other choices. Specifically in most condo rules are clauses stating that you can’t mount a dish of any kind.

    • speeddaimon says:

      @ojzitro: I think with cellular plans the price of the “free” phone is built into the plan cost. So effectively you’re on a payment plan for the phone AND the service.

      • ScottRose says:

        @speeddaimon:

        Cell phones are even worse, but not quite the same thing. If you cancel before your contract is up, you pay (for example) a $175 ETF. That’s to mitigate the phone companies risk on the cost of the “free phone” they gave you. Presumably they’ve recouped the cost of the phone (and then some) during your contract term.

        The funny thing is that your rates don’t go down automatically after your contract term is up — you’re still paying for that phone you didn’t pay for.

    • larrymac808 says:

      @ojzitro: Yeah, a little company called AT&T used to do exactly that, but for home phone service. They got broken into seven pieces and we all got the freedom to buy our own phones from Radio Shack and Walmart. (Ironically, I now scour the thrift shops for Model 500 and 2500 desk sets, and just got a spiffy 2550 wall set. Give me a phone that actually rings!)

      Anyway, the point for the cable companies is simple – those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

    • Munsoned says:

      @ojzitro: See the 1950/60s Carterfone and Hush-a-phone cases. That’s the way it used to be!

    • emis says:

      @ojzitro:

      Up until 1992 my parents were still renting our kitchen phone from the phone company… back in the 30/40/50/60s that was just the way things were done, there were no phones for sale, you rented from Bell and paid per outlet in your home.

  6. KylieH says:

    They’re already gouging me for On Demand, etc., why is $60 more for rental of the box necessary?

    Sorry, Philmin, I haven’t heard any word about a new box and I’ve had mine for more than a couple years now.

    The only thing that I’ve had replaced (repeatedly) is their crappy DVR.

    • philmin says:

      @KylieH:

      But what evidence do you, or anyone, have that this fee is above the market value of their box? I’m not making the argument that all of Comcast’s prices are great or they are a great company… I’m arguing that they aren’t doing anything illegal and I see no evidence that this is price gouging.

      • Corporate_guy says:

        @philmin: Say price is 40 for analog and you have 5 tvs in your house. In 3 years they drop analog. The price stays 40, but they force you to rent a 5 dollar a month box per tv. Now you are paying 65 dollars a month for the same thing and technically only the first 40 helps pay for content/service. How is it not price gouging to charge people more because the service is broadcasted in digital instead of analog? An all digital service saves the company bandwidth so they can potentially sell more products and won’t have to invest as much into network upgrades. They benefit and we pay more?

      • ojzitro says:

        @philmin: There is no Market….stop using that example. You can’t purchase a box, you are forced to rent one.

      • Cyberxion101 says:

        @philmin: I can’t go buy one, therefore there is NO market value beyond the artificial and rather arbitrary price that Comcast decides to attach to it! I don’t know why that seems so difficult for you to understand.

        When they sell you a service and then charge you whatever they want to on top of the fee for the service just so that you can use it as advertised, that is straight-up bullshit. I’m not savvy enough to know if it’s price-gouging per se, but it’s definitely not cool, and I hope with all my heart that this suit fucks Comcast right up it’s ass thereby moving them to alter this bullshit practice.

  7. Necoras says:

    Verizon does the same thing with FIOS. It’s not too bad with the normal settop box ($5 a month and usually you can get them to waive the fee if you ask nicely), but once you get into the DVRs you’re paying $14 – $20 a month. With a 1 year contract I could easily find something comparable for $200.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @Necoras: Plus that 200 dollar box will eventually be sub 100, maybe even sub 50. While comcast probably won’t be lowering their rental fee at all.

  8. taking_this_easy says:

    well, i’m sure the contract that YOU signed for digital service states that a digital box is required and YOU are required to rent it from the company at $xxx per month or something…. if u dont like it, go to basic cable or OTA

    wats comcast going to do, discount every bill by $5 a month to make up for the renting fee?

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @taking_this_easy: Basic cable is going away in like 3 years.

      • ilves says:

        @Corporate_guy:

        bullshit. basic cable will be around 10 years from now, you do realize how many people there are in the backwoods that have analog rabbit ear tvs? cable ain’t going away anytime soon

        • Corporate_guy says:

          @ilves: Let me correct. I meant analog cable. The basic package will exist as a digital signal.

          • Corporate_guy says:

            And to add, normally tvs can tune unencrypted digital channels. But there is nothing in place that will preserve the functionality of the basic package. So they will most likely encrypt all channels. And if they implement any type IPTV to save bandwidth, you will need their equipment to tune channels.

      • TaterTom says:

        @Corporate_guy: Gotta side with Ilves on this one, Cg. Even if it was slated to, Obama’d just push it back ;)

    • Cyberxion101 says:

      @taking_this_easy: Didn’t sign a contract, actually. That’s something that bit me in the ass when I filed a BBB report after Comcast arbitrarily decided to change the terms of my internet service from “Unlimited monthly bandwidth”, to a 250GB monthly limit.

      Now I don’t use anywhere near the limit, but it’s the principle of the matter. How can you advertise something as being unlimited when it’s not, and never has been? See, they monitored high-volume users and would threaten to cancel their internet service, just because these users were foolish enough to assume that it was actually unlimited, and they did it well before they changed the terms of service. We can get into a pointless discussion about how bandwidth is limited, and using a lot fucks everyone else, but the bottom line is that they’ve engaged in false advertising for years.

      At any rate, the thing that appears to have saved their fat from the fryer is that they don’t have contracts with their customers. As such, they are free to alter terms whenever they want, for whatever reason. In fact it’s for that reason that I imagine Comcast doesn’t offer contracts. They’d have to actually improve their infrastructure otherwise, and God forbid they have to do that!

  9. Mooshie says:

    While you can’t get on demand stuff without a cable box, you can get service with their cable card.

    [www.comcast.com]

    • kerry says:

      @Mooshie: But to do that you have to have a TV (or DVR) that accepts a cable card. Not everybody wants or needs to buy a new TV just to get cable service.
      Honestly, Comcast and the other cable providers will not stop screwing customers until customers start leaving. Cable is not a necessity. If you don’t think it’s worth what they’re charging, don’t pay for it. I get all my TV over-the-air or online and no cable company sees one red cent from me.

      • Cyberxion101 says:

        @kerry: I’m on board with that way of thinking. Unfortunately I have familial obligations that keep me from ditching Comcast. It sucks, especially because I’m paying half the bill each month for service that I rarely use, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

  10. Saboth says:

    I’ve always wondered this myself. How can you charge me for a digital box, then charge me for the digital service? The box should be provided if I am paying for the service. Also like how they charge you for the remote.

  11. Pylon83 says:

    I can see a very small amount of merit in this if Comcast truly won’t support a box bought on the open market. The thing is, Comcast can probably put forward has a very good reason for refusing to do so, which comes down to software and support. Cable boxes run special software written for individual cable systems, and loading that software to any box purchased off the internet creates a number of potential problems. Further, by only allowing Comcast boxes to be used, it simplifies their support system. Can you imagine trying to train a staff to support any potential 3rd party box that a customer might buy? Moreover, people do indeed have options, like purchasing a TV that is CableCARD compatible, or a TiVo that supports CableCARD technology. If people don’t like having to rent cable boxes, perhaps they should look for another service provider.

    • MauriceCallidice says:

      @Pylon83: CableCARD is unidirectional technology, and so can’t be used for services such as OnDemand. Many places only have one cable service provider allowed by the municipality/public utilities commission/whatever.

      • Pylon83 says:

        @MauriceCallidice:
        I agree with that. But one doesn’t have a right to OnDemand, just like one doesn’t have a right to cable. Further, there are other options such as Satellite or OTA.

    • Tiber says:

      @Pylon83: If supporting other boxes is that much of a pain, drop the damn fees for renting a box, since we’re already paying for digital and need a box to use it.

      As for supporting 3rd party boxes, don’t. Tell them to contact the box manufacturer, and then the manufacturer can sort it out with Comcast if it’s Comcast fault.

    • lvhotrain says:

      @Pylon83: You’re correct. If the techs were that smart they would have a better paying job supporting computers.

  12. chris_l says:

    Comcast’s DVRs are absolute garbage. They’re an industry joke. Their GUI looks like it was designed in 1995.

    But then again, they’re about to lose another $40 a month because they want to cut my promotion and refuse to renew it. I’ve threatened to cancel but apparently they’d prefer to have less of my money, which is fine because paying what I pay for cable is kinda retarded anyway.

    • tgrwillki says:

      @chris_l: Which DVR? The Motorola or the Scientific Atlanta (now Cisco).
      The Motorola one is crap, and it was actually designed by motorola. As has been my experience, the sciATL is actually a much better box, though it does have some deficiencies when compared to TiVo’s DVR offerings.

    • allnitecp says:

      @chris_l: I dumped Comcast TV services back in December. I had been on a promo price for a year, then paid the full amount for about a year. Then they came through in October and raised the rates again. My cost for the HD triple play, with internet, phone and equipment rentals ran me $230.00 a month! On top of that, the television service sucked. I couldn’t get clear reception on two of my digital boxes (standard Scientific Atlanta) and I was told that the HD boxes work better (Motorola) and that I could upgrade to those to get clear, no pixilated reception with sound on my two non-HD tv’s.

      I told them to stuff it and went and got two OTA Dtv boxes (with my coupons of course) and bought an upgraded antenna. Now I can get 1080i OTA on my HD tv and much better service on my other tvs.

      I kept the internet service and turned in all the old internet/phone equipment and got the cable modem (for free).

      I am loving it. Also, in my area, Comcast can’t turn off the analog cable tv service when you are an internet subscriber. So I still get my fix for Top Chef and the Soup!

      • TaterTom says:

        @allnitecp: They can kill your analog service, even if you have internet. You are lucky enough to have a faulty filter or a slack tech.

        No digital service can occupy the same frequencies as an analog service. Each system’s frequencies may vary some, but there IS a filter for EVERY combination imaginable.

        I don’t know exactly what the HD triple play package contains, but I’m certain you’re not getting anywhere near as many channels OTA.

  13. bravo369 says:

    i don’t see a problem with renting per say but i do think the charge should only be done up to the cost of the box. if it costs $100 then i should not be made to pay $5 per month for 5 years. I guess that wouldn’t be considered renting then however it would probably give incentive to people to keep using old boxes instead of upgrading to a different one and have the charges start again.

    • mizike says:

      @bravo369: When my Grandmother died, my parents were looking after her estate and noticed a strange item on her phone bill for “phone rental”. They called the phone company and it turns out that decades ago the phone company was updating their system and required users to switch from rotary phones to touch tone. They kindly offered to rent my non-tech savvy grandmother a phone, which she accepted. Over 30 years she paid a small monthly charge adding up to hundreds of times (maybe higher?) the fair market value of the phone. Of course the phone company didn’t say anything, why would they? I fail to see how this is any different; instead of selling people boxes for a one time fee of say $100, they are charging them $5 per month for, well, forever. I guarantee this is a significant revenue stream for them and they would have to start charging a noticeably higher subscription fee to make up for it were they ordered to stop.

    • JiminyChristmas says:

      @bravo369: The phrase is per se, not per say. ‘Per se’ is a Latin phrase that roughly translates as ‘by itself.’

  14. chrisjames says:

    When did they start this requirement? I had digital cable with Comcast for a few years starting in 2005, and they never gave me a box or charged me a rental fee. I missed out on OnDemand (like I care) and only received the fuzzy analog signal, but I got the whole setup only for the cable internet and adult swim.

    Yes, the boxes are a requirement for any digital content, including OnDemand. But, around here at least, you aren’t required to rent a box from them.

    • larrymac808 says:

      @chrisjames: If you only received a fuzzy analog signal, then you didn’t have, or shouldn’t have been paying for, digital cable.

      • chrisjames says:

        @larrymac808: It was a digital cable package: ordered as, stated as, quoted as, and paid for their digital cable service, with OnDemand and everything. You still get analog through the line, I just didn’t have a box with which to watch the digital channels.

        I had digital cable because I couldn’t subscribe to the internet service over the phone without getting it. I never downgraded because there wasn’t anything advertised to downgrade to, and the trouble of going through CSR and technician hell wouldn’t have been worth it.

        • TaterTom says:

          @chrisjames: Our HDTV picks up Comcast’s digital channels just fine. No box required. We have internet through them also, but who told you that you “couldn’t subscribe to the internet service over the phone without getting [digital]?” I’ve not heard that before.

          • chrisjames says:

            @TaterTom: The Comcast sales rep on the phone. At the time, I just didn’t care if it was a scam or not.

            Our HDTV did not pick up the digital channels, only the analog. You can tell the difference (fuzzy with interference).

    • lannister80 says:

      @chrisjames: You don’t have digital cable then.

  15. Mollyg says:

    I believe that they have a valid point and that Comcast is guilty of illegal bundling.

    • Pylon83 says:

      @Mollyg:
      I think that gets much harder to prove because Comcast doesn’t make the boxes. Further, their “tying” of the Cable box to the service doesn’t really affect the consumer market for Cable Boxes, because there simply isn’t one. Motorola, Scientific Atlantic, etc. don’t generally sell their boxes to the general public.

  16. suburbancowboy says:

    I also think it is ridiculous that I can’t buy a cablecard reader for my PC, unless I buy a certified PC that has it built in. I build my own computers, and I want to watch TV on it, and use it like a DVR. But the content providers have such a stranglhold, loaded with DRM, that you can’t buy one aftermarket.

  17. JGKojak says:

    On the one hand, its nice to know that whenever I spill something (easy with young kids around) on the remote- I can take it in, pretend it just quit working, and get a new one free.

    On the other hand, its monopolistic to not provide a choice to consumers.

  18. Kevin Mills says:

    I don’t mind renting it, because it also means Comcast has fixed any problems I’ve had. If I were to buy one and it broke, I’d be out of luck.

  19. Michael Kohne says:

    At a technical level, Comcast doesn’t want to try to support third-party cable boxes because every cable box has it’s own weird bugs that the cable company (and their back end systems) have to work around. There’s simply no way that the back end could work around the bugs in ALL cable boxes, so they’d have no end of problems. Long term it would be good (the market would eventually force the box makers to get their act together) but it would be bad for everyone in the near term.

    • warf0x0r says:

      @mhkohne: Comcasts own boxes are buggy and don’t work properly on their network. This just exposes the fact that they’re doing as little as possible to get by. Personally in the summer we are switching to dish simply because Comcasts hardware in our area is so outdated. I had to buy my own cable modem because the one they provided was so old. I received no service discount for providing my own hardware, but I was told that if I didn’t return their cable modem within 3 days they would charge me 400 dollars.

    • allstarecho says:

      @mhkohne: The point isn’t about using a 3rd party box. It’s about them charging you for digital service, and then charging you for a box that is required to get that digital service that you’re already paying for, and then charging you for the remote control that works the box that you’re already paying for. Bottom line is, if you’re paying for digital service, that fee alone should cover the box and remote control too – you’re paying for the service, the service requires these items to operate, they should be included.

    • tundey says:

      @mhkohne: How about not charging for the boxes? Loan it out and pick up upon termination of the service. Think about: why should I have to pay to rent a box to enjoy services for which I am already paying? That’s like car companies charging you extra for the keys to your brand new car.

    • Cyberxion101 says:

      @mhkohne: Comcast’s cable boxes are buggy enough themselves. My DVR decided to arbitrarily cancel all my scheduled recordings, and one day it even recorded four or five hours of the CW for no good reason when what I really wanted was a half an hour of Spectacular Spider-Man.

      Oh, and On Demand works intermittently, though I admittedly don’t bother much with it because their selection sucks really badly.

      So yeah, if they can’t work out the bugs in the equipment they do support, then I don’t see the third-party excuse holding much water. :P

  20. tc4b says:

    Pardon me if this seems like gloating, but I put a beautiful big new antenna up in the attic awhile back, got my free converter boxes, and now have excellent reception and a beautiful picture. Who needs the fancy channels? My library is great, I borrowed the entire series of The Wire from them, for example. Anyhow, I have two little kids, not like I have a ton of time to watch TV anyhow.

    Just saying, it’s possible to cut the cord. Maybe if more people did it, cable companies would be more reasonable. And maybe they wouldn’t, and maybe no one would give a shit because we’d all be enjoying free digital content!

    • Rhayader says:

      @tc4b: The Wire is KICKASS!

      Don’t know how far into it you are, but if you find yourself bored by the first few episodes, keep watching. It will be more than worth your time.

      Also, in terms of dropping cable: the one thing that keeps me from doing that is sports. I am helpless without ESPN HD, and now, MLB Network HD.

    • HooFoot says:

      @tc4b: Getting rid of my cable connection was one of the best choices I’ve made. The first week was difficult, but I stopped missing it soon after that. Between Hulu, my local library, and Redbox’s frequent specials, I always have something interesting to watch for free.

      • Rhayader says:

        @HooFoot: Again, you must not be a sports fan.

        There is no real alternative if you want to watch sports, especially baseball (which gets very little major network coverage in the regular season). MLB.tv, the web streaming service, is pretty nice because you can watch any game if you subscribe, but the quality just isn’t there yet, especially if you are used to HD.

  21. Anonymous says:

    There’s a very fine legal point here. In 2007, the FCC started an “integration ban” that required cablecos to provide CableCARDs (or tru2way, or equivalent devices) that would allow 3rd party boxes access to the digital channels. The FCC’s goal was exactly what this guy wants – BYO cable box, no monthly rental. Problem is, where can you buy a cable box that’s not a TiVo? I don’t think Scientific Atlanta will sell you one.

    So, Comcast IS required (by the FCC) to allow him to use a personally-owned box on their system. They aren’t required to let him buy one, though, so it’s a bit of a catch-22. Comcast will install CableCARDs in a TiVo, so I think they’re off the hook on that one.

    He might have a case if he can convince the court consumers currently have no way to purchase a box unless a provider like Comcast is willing to sell in addition to leasing. Good luck!

  22. MissNikki says:

    I just got Comcast and I’m not being charged for box rental. Maybe this is regarding HD Boxes? I know they charge $4.95/mo for those.

    • Brunette Bookworm says:

      @MissNikki: Wow, that’s a deal. Around me they charge 8.99 plus 9.99 if you want DVR service.

    • Rhayader says:

      @MissNikki: The first box is typically included in the price of the digital cable package. Any extra boxes (or DVR upgrades) will cost extra per month.

      I have Time Warner, and they give HD boxes for no additional charge (which is pure awesome). Not sure how Comcast deals with HD upgrades.

  23. tinyhands says:

    I should sue Ford Motor Co. for forcing me to buy a Ford that uses Ford parts. Why don’t they have a Ford that has a BMW engine, suspension, transmission, and interior?? AAK! MONOPOLY! NO FAIRS!

    • vastrightwing says:

      @tinyhands: Exacttly!

    • TaterTom says:

      @tinyhands: That’s a pretty good point, and more relevant than you may have intended. You can buy/build a air conditioner or something for your car, and if it doesn’t work, the manufacturer sure isn’t liable.

      As I stated before, I get digital channels through Comcast cable via my television by itself. If that stops working, Comcast doesn’t care, it’s not their product that’s broken or outdated.

  24. Joeb5 says:

    Comcrap support third-party cable boxes is poor to none and they make you rent cables cards at $2-$5 per month + outlet fees for a card that costs about $50 $100.

    Also they don’t work with SDV channels some premium / sports packs (Not all areas).

    $3 – $4 for a basic box costs about $35 that can only do clear qam no channels that need encryption. Cable cards can do more.

    There box prices are rip off any ways $7 – $8 per HD box? + outlet fees.

    $

    • Joeb5 says:

      @Joeb5:
      $15 for the First HD DRV $20 for each one after that + outlet fees + a $17 per box one time activation fee the HD boxes have the same fee.

      For a small 160gb HD. Direct Tv and dish have X2 or more the HD space + Direct tv can use E-sata disks and dish can use usb HD.

      a $5 fee per box with no outlet fees is better.

      And they still want a more for cable guard / protection plans or they make you pay fess to swap the box out with they go bad.

      A better way likely the only way to get things to this is buy law is to have.

      Make boxes rent to own no end less lease or rent forever / Buy up front.

      Canada cable and sat cos have Buy up front and rent to own.

      No foreced rebuy / rent when it brakes down / needs to be replaced by a new box If you have 1-2 or more lock in there there can be no forced fees to replace boxes or you can’t be moved to rent for a new one.

      cable guard / protection plans covers tech fees / cables / shipping fees. Not protection from being forced to rebuy a $600 box if you are locked in to there own boxes.

      You should be able to put own hard disk in the box with out getting in trouble as log you are doing for more space not hacking.

  25. DevoAlmighty says:

    Try having the DVR box! Not only do you pay the 5 bucks for the box, but then you get charged the recently hiked 14 bucks for DVR service.

    • Rhayader says:

      @DevoAlmighty: Yeah I hate that shit, and I am a DVR addict now.

      I would LOVE to roll my own DVR, but without the ability to get the digital channels (including the super-important HD channels), I am out of luck.

  26. morgasco says:

    In my area you are able to go in and swap out your boxes if you have a local payment center. I’ve done this on almost a yearly basis, but to no avail. Ususally the same ole’ Scientific Atlanta boxes with GUI from 10 years ago…. Even the lady at the service center said they were to cheap to upgrade the equipment that was existing from the Time Warner days.

  27. jsbeagle says:

    I wouldn’t have a problem if they hadn’t just moved the history channel to digital only. Right now I have one of their boxes in the bedroom (I guess the one included with digital service), and a Series 2 Tivo in the living room. Worked fine before but now I can’t tivo anything that comes on the history channel. :(

  28. Enduro says:

    This bugs me too. Comcast just went all digital in my ‘hood (Detroit city) and I was under the impression they were legally required to continue broadcasting unscrambled basic in digital “clear to air” or QAM so I bought a DVD-R with a QAM tuner for my bedroom to future proof myself. Well, they broadcast a few “clear to air” channels alright. QVC x 10 or so, religious crap x 12 or so and the broadcast network stations. Thanks! I already pay for internet, a box in the living room and my roommate’s bedroom. Do they really need another 6 bucks a month from me? Or get a cable card (and all the crap that I need to use it)?

    I was going to write consumerist and see if this was legal.

  29. corinthos says:

    Only 5 dollar for a box? In my area boxes range around 10 each. Usually somewhere from 10-13 bucks and the second ones are around 10 also. I called and threatened to go with dish and they gave me a year of two boxes for free.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Basically, the law suit is because people cannot buy boxes directly from Comcast. Panasonic, Sony and other manufactors have tried to sell boxes that can be used with cable cards but they have pulled out early because they do not want to set up additional support centers, tech support in home, etc. It’s not the fault of any cable company if these electronics manufactors do not want to get into this market.

    FCC passed a ruling a few years ago that mandated all cable boxes has to have separate security acces. This way, a customer can purchase a box and have it work with any cable system they use. Comcast, Time Warner and others have complied but once again, you cannot force say Sony to make a cable box if they do not want to. Even Motorola had a box that they sold directly to customers that could be used but stopped producing them.

    Toss the lawsuit out. Nothing to back up their claims.

    • TaterTom says:

      @DantePhoebe: I agree. One point of mine keeps coming up here, too:

      My Vizio HDTV picks up Comcast’s digital channels with no Comcast-provided box. You CAN buy equipment that does the regular digital service from other entities besides Comcast.

  31. Fresh-Fest-1986 says:

    They are covering themselves by making people rent boxes. The option to buy or rent-to-lease is a logistical nightmare for them. What if your owned box goes bad? What if a tech goes out and doesn’t know your version/model of cable box? What if a tech is trying to fix an issue and your box craps out? Equipment is registered via serial number and the network is monitored for PPV abuse and customers past due on bills. What if your serial number matches someone else?
    They are covering their overhead by cutting down unecessary truck roll outs. I know the policy around here is Comcast is absolutely evil in everything they do, but this isnt one of them. The problems caused by people owning their own boxes would just further get in the way of people calling with real problems.
    Also you get the first cable box included in your package for free. You do have to pay extra now for an HD box, but as it gets more and more mainstream that fee will go away.

  32. jmndos says:

    They are forcing people to get THEIR docsis 3.0 modems instead of other models…

  33. CaptZ says:

    I have ATT U-verse (Awesome, btw), they charge no equipment fees and I have 3 boxes,(1 DVR, 2 reg) and free installation up to 3 rooms. I would never go back to cable.

    Cable is so dead…..

  34. tgrwillki says:

    I think it should be pointed out that no subscriber is being billed for a digital box rental.

    Comcast’s rate cards say that the monthly charge is for an additional outlet of digital service, and the box to acquire the service is provided by Comcast to the customer at no charge. This has been previously litigated, and I don’t think that there will be much resolution, as comcast was victorious last time, IIRC

  35. sinfuly Delicious says:

    What about Sat Companies??? you have to buy the EQ from them.. so why have a fit on the cable company only?

  36. jgonzz says:

    Ive got Time Warner’s DVR box and its lame. I pay almost $170 a month for my cable + internet. A lot of us (new yorkers) are waiting to see this Fios thing hit our market. Cable companies seem to really enjoy charging its customers for the silliest of things. It is amazing, however, how these silly things disappear when a new challenger enters their market(s)..

  37. bohemian says:

    Our current cable provider allows you to use your own internet modem as long as it is one on a long list of compatibles. They did this after people threatened to sue. They were charging monthly rental fees and the price of modems was dropping.

    This needs the same treatment and MA Bell and having to rent phones.

  38. magnoliasouth says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. I am anti-monopoly and pro-competition, but I am also anti-big government.

    If On-Demand can be used with current converters on the market, then I would definitely side with the lawsuit. If there aren’t any compatible converters at present, then I cannot see how a lawsuit would benefit anyone.

  39. vastrightwing says:

    Don’t pay for cable at all. Why pay $50+/month when there are so many alternatives to cable? Lest we forget FREE over the air TV? Internet/IpTV, NetFlix, Books, iPods, Magazines, etc. etc. I say let Comcast charge all they want. It makes no difference to me. I just can’t believe the market place allows them to charge so much. Go figure.

  40. Quibbs0 says:

    Maybe we can get that digital conversion pushed back even further and add the subsidization of these boxes too!!!

  41. TrueBlue63 says:

    cable companies are drug dealers and we are their addicts

  42. adamczar says:

    I’m going to sue Netflix because they don’t allow me to stream movies on my Playstation 3.

    ::facepalm::

    Cable is a luxury, if you don’t like it, don’t get it.

  43. soloudinhere says:

    I don’t have cable (I travel internationally, so I watch TV on Hulu and through iTunes subscriptions rather than paying for a service that I can’t watch because I’m not even in the same country) but I have to say, I didn’t even know what a cable box WAS until I was 19.

    I do think it’s bull that they charge you a rental fee though. Comcast up here makes you pay for it up front when you get service and then you get the $$ back when you return the box. I forget what the deposit was but I am pretty sure it was under $100.

  44. LissaKay says:

    DirecTV is a worse rip off, IMO. When you sign up, they often have an offer for a “free” tuner box, or discount on an HD box. You aren’t buying anything though … that $100 “free” box or $100 “off” the HD box is just money you piss away. You never own the box, even if you get it at Best Buy. You still only lease it.

    Then, they lock you into a 18 or 24 month contract, a la the cell phone companies. At least with the cell phones, you get to keep the equipment the contract is ostensibly covering. You quit DirecTV, you have to give the box back. Yes, the box that was $100 or $200, with a $100 “discount” that you also paid a monthly lease fee for, and have to fulfill a contract so DirecTV could recoup their equipment and installation costs.

    How do I know this? I am in the midst of a battle to get out of what was supposed to be a 12 month contract (which I did fulfill) but DirecTV is now trying to say is a 24 month contract and will cost me $269 to get out of.

  45. raincntry says:

    How many more examples do we need to show that Comcast is the worst company in the country?

  46. mattstrz09 says:

    You’re the reason why lawsuits are a joke anymore. Heinz makes ketchup packets that are too small, lawsuit. Wrigley’s gum isn’t as long lasting as they claim after all, lawsuit. The Magic Eight Ball was misleading, lawsuit. Nikes don’t automatically make me greater than Lebron, lawsuit. Axe Body spray doesn’t get me girl, lawsuit. Get a clue man, it’s an as is product and deal. If you don’t like it, go with another provider.

    (disclaimer: The above comments do not accurately reflect the opinions of Heinz, Wrigleys, The Magic Eight Ball, Nike, Lebron, or Axe Body spray)

  47. mattstrz09 says:

    You’re the reason why lawsuits are a joke anymore. Heinz ketchup packets are too small, lawsuit. Wrigleys gum is not as long lasting as advertised, lawsuit. The Magic Eight Ball was misleading, lawsuit. Nike’s didn’t make me as good as Lebron, lawsuit. Axe body spray didn’t have girls jumping all over me, class action suit. Get a clue buddy, it’s an as advertised product and deal. If you don’t like it go with another provider, I think you’ll find it’s a standard fee.

    (Disclaimer: The statements above do no accurately portray the opinions of Heinz, Wrigleys, The Magic Eight Ball, Nike, Lebron or Axe Body Spray)

  48. VardonAgamedes says:

    In 2007 I bought an HDTV, got a look at my local channels in HD and wanted more. I called up Comcast looking to pay them more money in exchange for more HD channels.

    “You need our box.”

    No, I do not need your box, I purchased a TV with internal ATSC and QAM tuners, I just need you to send the channels down the pipe.

    “We won’t upgrade your plan unless you rent a box.”

    Well, so much for my desire to give Comcast more money. About a month later they add a couple more local, non-affiliated channels in HD, but the signal strength on the physical digital channel that carries the virtual channels for both FOX and CBS drops too low to be displayed.

    So I call Comcast.

    “You need our box.”

    No, I don’t need your box, all the other HD channels come in fine, these two channels come in fine over the air, I need you to check the signal strength coming over your pipe.

    “We refuse to investigate your issue unless you rent a box.”

    I canceled my cable that day. Pity there’s no such thing as competition for cable service, but as long as The Daily Show is online I can live without it.

  49. BytheSea says:

    You can’t buy a third party cable box. I tried to find one, there was one on ebay and it looked really skeezy, and ebay had a warning article about how it’s illegal.

  50. BytheSea says:

    You guys are missing the point. You can’t BUY a box from anyone, including comcast. You have to rent it for the life of the box, eventually paying far more than it would be worth if you bought it from anyone. I don’t care who I buy it from, even if it’s Comcast, but it’s just greed to make me pay every month for an electronic device.

  51. TaterTom says:

    I think either the person suing Comcast needs a tech update, or Comcast’s system is different where they live, because I have a Vizio HDTV that picks up Comcast’s digital channels fine. No converter box required. It’s been this way for a good year now, at least.

    • Anonymous says:

      @TaterTom:
      my dad’s hdtv picks up extra channels also, but non-hdtvs don’t. we need the boxes to receive digi signals and on demand. however, they are charging us for a digi converter, which is inside the box! so we are paying 2 fees for one component. also, if u don’t have a digi cable connected to ur house, like we didn’t for the 4 years we paid for digi cable, u won’t get digi reception. i want to sue them for these wrong doings. it’s a contract/customers service issue.

      • TaterTom says:

        @MaraCalliope: Hmmm. The converter fee seems inappropriate, if it is in fact for the converter box. Something tells me that’s not the case, or at least Comcast can argue as such [conversion vs converter, for example].
        Let’s be clear here, though: all equipment connected to a digital TV network receives the digital channels. Older TV’s don’t translate and show them. There’s no grounds for lawsuit against a digital radio station because your radio only plays analog stations.

        This reminds me somewhat of an article I read some time ago, of a case in which a cable TV pirate was exonerated from charges of stealing services, on the grounds that the services were being piped into his home, and he simply built a more-advanced-than-usual device to interpret them.

        Charging for installation of a device you never get is certainly wrong, but it seems like the consumer in the suit will have a hard time.

  52. Squeezer99 says:

    dish network is just as bad. the VIP622 DVR you have to “buy” for $150 and then lease it for $6/month also

  53. Smorgasbord says:

    When Bell was a monopoly phone company you RENTED everything. You even had to pay extra if you wanted a longer cord on the handset or a different color than black.

  54. Anonymous says:

    i bought a digital cable box from ebay, and called comcast to activate it and they ask a million questions of where i got it from then wanted the serial# from the back of the box first to check if the box was stolen from comcast . after waiting on the phone several minutes the comcast rep came back and said it was not in their inventory and could not activate it. then told me to return it to ebay. when a questioned he about having my own equipment she said i could by my own modem or router if a had the internet service but not cable boxes. I am so for suing comcast for rental charges. class action lawsuit is a must.

  55. midawg33 says:

    with the digital cable boxes from comcast the first box is included in each digital packages… what the extra charges are for is the additional boxes that are optional… With the DTV transition happening yes boxes are required for digital programming but local channels with still be simulcasted on the analog feed for those without boxes on a/all televisions…

    • TaterTom says:

      @midawg33: “yes boxes are required for digital programming but local channels with still be simulcasted on the analog feed for those without boxes”

      NO… The entire signal, including digital channels, internet, and VOIP phone services are piped into every device connected to the service provider’s network. Encryption-defeating authorization aside, any device that can interpret the signal can play it for you to enjoy. Such is the case in my living room, where many digital channels show without any converter box attached to the cable line whatsoever.

      This also has nothing at all to do with the DTV transition. That only concerns people who are not customers of a piped-in service, like cable television or satellite.