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Public Hearing on Spectrum's Digital Conversion

Plus, who prevents cable giant from constant rate hikes?

Mike Baggerman
April 16, 2018 - 3:00 am
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Some Spectrum cable subscribers will have to adjust the way they watch television.

Soon, the days of simply plugging a coaxial cable from your wall directly to the back of your television to receive your cable will be in the past, and customers will now have to plug the cable into a digital receiver. This upgrade could cost customers an extra anywhere from $6.99 to $11.75 per month following a free period. The cost only applies to one digital receiver, which can only be used on one television. Multiple televisions will require multiple receivers. 

Spectrum's digital upgrade began in January and different communities were upgraded each week. The upgrades will continue through June. North Tonawanda, Orleans, Lockport, and Niagara Falls were recently transitioned to the all-digital platform. The City of Buffalo will convert to all-digital in early May. 

Buffalo Common Councilman Richard Fontana told WBEN that a public meeting will be held later this month where the public can voice concerns about Spectrum's digital initiative.

"Residents are concerned," Fontana said. "They're hearing it could be upwards of $12 a month and the company is saying it may be less. We want to get the real numbers out there to the people, tell them what the real numbers are going to be, maybe what they could do differently. Maybe they could not have a TV in that room. Maybe they could use rabbit ears."

Spectrum representatives were invited to attend the meeting and Fontana said that they are likely to attend because they were given two weeks notice and representatives in the past have attended. 

"I'll run a very efficient and professional meeting," Fontana said. "It's not going to be a (meeting) that's biased or anything like that. We're going to let them have their say and then if customers of the company have questions, they can get answers at that hearing."

The public hearing will be held on April 30 inside Buffalo Common Council Chambers inside City Hall at 5:30 p.m. 

Regulation of the cable company cannot be done at the local or county level. Fontana explained that Spectrum enters into an agreement where utilize the city's infrastructure and pay essentially a five percent tax to the city. 

"It was deregulated years ago where the cities and towns can't talk to Spectrum about their programming," Fontana said. "We can't talk to them about pricing, of course, or the way they run their business."

Instead, regulation of the company is done through the Public Service Commission. We reached out to representatives from the state commission and asked if they have any say in the regulation of Spectrum's all-digital initiative and on rate hikes.

"We will review these complaints and take action to support these customers if warranted. PSC has numerous open investigations related to Charter including a management and operations audit of customer service quality, an investigation into its compliance with the PSC's merger conditions, and an investigation of the company's compliance with its NYC franchise agreements," the statement read. 

Spectrum stands by its digital initiative.

"We're committed to upgrading the entire Spectrum footprint to a two-way, interactive digital service, and giving customers a best-in-class TV, internet, and voice experience," Tom Rutledge, Chairman and CEO of Charter Communications, Inc. said in a press release. "By going all-digital across our WNY service area and removing analog signals, we free up capacity in our network for faster internet speeds, more HD, and On Demand options and pave a path for future innovation."

A work-around to those concerned about paying the monthly rental fee for a receiver can utilize either a Roku TV or Xbox One. A Roku stick costs $29.99 at most major retailers and can operate the Spectrum TV app, which allows for live television and on-demand content. An Xbox One costs roughly $240 though used ones can be found for less and also allows for live and on-demand content, plus video gaming. Spectrum also has an app for smart phones where content can be streamed. 

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