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Maine Grows More Upset With Time Warner Cable’s All-Digital Conversion

Phillip Dampier October 6, 2011 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 13 Comments

Customers of Time Warner Cable in Maine preparing for the cable company’s all-digital conversion that will eventually impact every customer nationwide are reporting more problems with the equipment the cable company is supplying to those without set top cable boxes.

Frank Dobbelaere from Augusta is disgusted with the digital box conversion, and is calling the cable company “anti-consumer.”

“They can cut service costs, forgo capacity upgrades and charge indefinitely per device, leaving consumers with inconveniences, obstacles and surcharges,” Dobbelaere says.  “Time Warner Cable staff said the digital cable adapters (DCA) are mandatory, for everything, unless you have a digital cable box per device. HDTVs with digital tuner do not get a pass. I quote: ‘No adapter = no TV. Cable TV is going to be password protected.’”

Indeed, Stop the Cap! has heard from several customers in Maine who report Time Warner Cable’s new digital conversion program even impacts customers with digital tuner-equipped sets, forcing them to either watch a downgraded analog signal or upgrade to a digital set top box.

This DVR delivers "Sub-standard definition television"

“They have encrypted the basic cable lineup so QAM reception is not going to work, assuming you can even figure out how to program it in the first place,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Bill Adair.  “We tried their digital adapter for about five minutes, and that is all it took for us to take it back.  It’s absolute garbage.”

Adair reports the DTA Time Warner supplies significantly degrades picture quality.

“It’s absolutely awful with wavy lines in the background, grainy picture quality, and a picture that resembles a VCR tape,” he reports to us.

Adair said he wouldn’t even bother with the device on his 13 inch kitchen television.

“It’s unwatchable, in my opinion, on any television.”

Dobbelaere considers the resulting picture from his DTA sub-standard definition.

“I lost every local HD station. Most analog channels were blank. The DCA quality is worse in side by side analog comparison. It is prone to interference and signal degradation,” he reports to the Kennebec Journal. “Toss out the $100 all-in-one remote, put the TV on channel 3 (or 4) and use the chintzy DCA remote, without closed-captioning support. Two or more devices in a room? Thanks to DCAs, you can no longer control the channel independently, because each remote changes the channel on any DCA.”

Antenna retailers are using Time Warner's digital conversion as a sales opportunity.

The list of devices rendered effectively inoperable with the new digital system continues to grow unless you go through the painful, and pricey set top box route:

  • VCRs
  • DVRs like TiVo
  • DVD Recorders
  • PC TV Tuner Cards and Add-Ons
  • Slingbox
  • “Cable-ready” HD television sets

“What happened to free HD, cable without a box, buy a new HDTV and get cable to avoid a converter — so eagerly touted during the DTV transition and other commercials,” asks Dobbelaere. “We were perfectly happy viewing and recording the analog-digital mix; but now will pay more for less, while losing any recording and networking capability.  Of course, Time Warner would happily rent me a dozen digital cable boxes and DVRs.”

Dobbelaere has a better idea.  He’s planning to cut the cable and “go old school” with rabbit ears.

In fact, antenna retailers see an opportunity and are buying ads to remind Maine residents they can still watch HDTV programming over the air, without a digital box, a DTA, or monthly cable bill.


Currently there are 13 comments on this Article:

  1. siouxmoux says:

    Its Time Warner own fault for encrypted Broadcast basic cable lineup so QAM reception is not going to work. At Least Comcast Is Not encrypted the Broadcast basic cable so you can QAM reception for Local HD/SD/Sub Channels

  2. Dave Hancock says:

    Something’s amiss here:
    1) FCC regulations prohibit encrypting the basic local channels. Someone is not communicating that to TW. (This does not mean that TW can’t encrypt purely cable channels, such as CNN, just that they can’t encrypt the full power local OTA channels (like the local CBS channel).
    2) According to the earlier link here on that subject, TW themselves says:
    “If your television has a Digital QAM tuner, you will still be able to receive the Basic channel lineup without a Digital Adapter or set-top box.” Someone is not communicating WITHIN TW!

    • It turns out the key here is how TW defines “basic channel lineup.” From what I have come to find out, that means the BROADCAST basic lineup, which will remain analog/standard def. If you want HD, however, tough luck. It appears they’ll leave about a dozen channels in analog — locals plus public, educational, government, and probably a handful of shopping channels. But they are downconverted standard def versions all the way.

      What needs to happen is digital basic cable and HD QAM channels need to be unencrypted, so consumers can avoid a box if they wish. But TW seems to think encrypted QAM is a nice way to stop people from stealing cable.

      So you can watch the local OTA channels without a box — if you don’t mind the non-HD versions.

  3. Baxter says:

    :| another oversized corporation runnin the mock!!!

  4. Ian M. says:

    Actually I’ve read that the FCC has “Must Carry” rules and those rarely apply to any station anymore. But I’m not even sure due to all the confusing information about them. Also we get stations in Clear QAM that aren’t even found in our channel line up in my city, so I’d like to see them block those.

    • Dave Hancock says:

      You are confusing “must carry” rules with other rules that prohibit encrypting the local stations. With “must carry” a station may elect to exert their must carry rights OR, instead grant/withhold permission for cable to carry their channel. Lately, stations have been “negotiating” permission to obtain additional revenues – so few stations are asserting their “must carry” rights.

      The specific FCC rule that applies to encrypting is:

      § 76.630 Compatibility with consumer electronics equipment.
      (a) Cable system operators shall not scramble or otherwise encrypt signals carried on the basic service tier. Requests for waivers of this prohibition must demonstrate either a substantial problem with theft of basic tier service or a strong need to scramble basic signals for other reasons.

      Now, often cable companies conveniently forget this rule – certainly, the run of the mill CSR thinks that if you want Hi Def you need a HD cable box, but that is not the case.

      I had pointed out in my earlier post on this subject, that even TW’s web site acknowledges that if someone has a clear QAM tuner, that they can receive the basic channels without the adapter. I really suspect that the people complaining in Maine are not aware of the rules, and TW’s statement and have not sufficiently asserted their rights to TW.

      • Must-carry has become less and less relevant for full power stations because they are now less interested in forcing their way onto a cable system and more interested in being paid to allow themselves to be included.

        You will still find some must-carry battles among low-power stations that show the lower-rated networks, home shopping, ethnic, and religious programming. The LPTV craze was much bigger about a decade ago. Now many of these channels find themselves with perhaps dozens of viewers at any one time, no way to earn a profit running them, and a major battle to find their way onto cable, where they will actually be noticed.

        In the end, I expect most LPTV stations in more urban areas will either end up showing religion or ethnic niche programming. Home shopping and other related automated formats are simply not going to attract viewers. In more rural areas, there are some very honorable local operations that actually put together local newscasts and locally-originated programming for an eager audience who never dreamed their community of 15-50,000 would ever justify a local station.

        If the FCC gets aggressive about recapturing spectrum for wireless, I expect to see most LPTV stations in urban areas signing off and turning in their licenses for cash compensation.

        • Dave Hancock says:

          The FCC has very specific rules about what qualifies as “must carry”. It SPECIFICALLY DOES NOT include low power stations. Check out Part 76.55 para (c)

          In regards to defining the “basic tier”, Local stations MUST BE on the lowest price basic tier. That also includes the High Definition digital version (and the cable company cannot “materially degrade” the quality) It does not define what else can or can not be on that basic tier – only that it cannot be encrypted.

    • Here in Rochester, the last time I waded through the QAM lineup, I found a handful of Elmira/Corning TV stations (which I later discovered were there for the benefit of Time Warner’s systems in Steuben/Yates County I believe), the Canandaigua public access station, and I think NASA TV. Virtually all of the QAM channels were blank, excepting the local broadcast stations and a small handful of basic cable networks. It was confusing as hell mapping them, and I can’t imagine most people would ever bother.

      I think TWC treats QAM as sort of a secret backhaul to provide feeds of channels to their different systems that don’t have direct fiber feeds from local stations or can’t receive a clear OTA signal.

  5. Ian M. says:

    Ah yes, that subject was confusing me, thanks for clarifying. It still says they can get a waiver to scramble them “must demonstrate either a substantial problem with theft of basic tier service or a strong need to scramble basic signals for other reasons.” Other reasons, like another revenue stream for them… or they can pull something about theft from a bunch of BS.

    • Dave Hancock says:

      There have been only three or four wavers approved. This has not happened very often and has not happened with any TW system. Two or three wavers were in Puerto Rico and were for theft. The most recent one was in NYC (Cablevision I think) where there has been a problem gaining access to apartment buildings (that is the only “other reasons” granted.

  6. Cal says:

    Sadly with the laws passed in congress Time Warner Cable is simply trying to follow it to the letter of the law. This is what you get when law makers try to make “educated” decisions and not having and idea of how much of a logistical nightmare putting those changes into effect. While most of us will blame Time Warner right now, it is something that is going to be affecting EVEY cable company in the very near future as the deadline approaches. I applaud Time Warner for at least having the foresite to try to roll this out early in order to broach problems more efficiently, vs what most of the other comapies will do and just launch on the deadline date with little to no live testing.

    • Dave Hancock says:

      Cal – What you say sounds like BS to me. You sound like a shill for TW.

      The move to all digital is not due to any laws passed by Congress (or the FCC). Yes, there are certain regulations that pertain to such moves (to PROTECT the comsumer), but there has been NOTHING to force TW to do this.

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