Cablevision Takes Away Analog Stations Before DTV Transition, Confuses Customers

Joe works at a Radio Shack store on Long Island. Lately, the combination of the digital TV transition and some recent lineup changes at local cable TV provider Cablevision has Joe concerned, since he has both a conscience and a brain, and is an avid Consumerist reader.

Most electronics store employees don’t know or care enough to straighten their confused customers out. They mistakenly believe that they need to buy an over-the-air converter box in order to receive the missing channels again.

Over the last 3 weeks, customers have been flowing into my local Radio Shack, asking for DTV converter boxes to use with their cable service. This seemed to make very little sense, as 1. The Converter boxes only convert over-the-air signals, and 2. Cablevision sends broadcast channel signals through the line in analog format, as required by their agreement with the FCC.

After doing a bit of research, I found out that Cablevision had taken 16 channels, including Lifetime, MSNBC and MTV, from the analog lineup. (See this article.) The message on the screen, reads “This Channel is now available with a digital cable box or CableCARD.” This message, combined with the DTV switchover messages that have been bombarding viewers, left them to believe that the need a DTV converter box, when in fact, they need a Cablevision Digital Cable Box.

After the 4th day of customers coming in for boxes that shouldn’t work, I called Cablevision and confirmed that the DTV boxes will not work for this, and that customers who want those channels will need a cable box. While the customer service representative swore that correct information was being given to customers, and that all their subscribers were notified, nobody I have talked to has heard anything about these notifications and some customers have even claimed that the Cablevision reps told them to come into Radio Shack to buy the DTV boxes.

While I have done the best to get this information out to my co-workers and other Radio Shack stores, I am still hearing reports of customers meeting confusion and the runaround when going to other electronics retailers (Best Buy, I’m looking at you.).

I cannot confirm if any other Cable Providers are doing the same (Cablevision is the service provider for a Number of Suburban Areas around New York City, Including, Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey.) But it appears that the Cablevision problem is widespread on Long Island. I have tested the channels in question without a cable box, and sure enough, they aren’t coming in on my analog TV. Furthermore, as a Cablevision customer myself, I have not seen any notices from Cablevision regarding this change.

On average, I personally have to provide clarification for 3-4 customers every day, and I am only a part time employee in a very small store. If this is any indicator, there is a large consumer base that may potentially be confused to the point where they are buying products they don’t need.

It sounds like what efforts Cablevision is making to get information out to the public—if any—aren’t working, and it’s easy to see how people could confuse digital cable boxes with DTV converter boxes. Bad time to make a drastic lineup change.

Cablevision to eliminate 16 analog channels [Newsday]

(Photo: reegmo)