Southern Berkshire cable committee says Charter Communications plans costly changes


GREAT BARRINGTON — When Charter Communications initially proposed purchasing Time Warner Cable, its representatives assured communities that nothing would change.

Now, a group representing several Southern Berkshire communities says the company is going back on its word by planning to encrypt its digital signal.

"Subscribers who replaced their old, analog TVs with digital sets in order to watch TV without converters will no longer be able to do so without converter boxes," said Linda Miller, chairwoman of the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee.

The committee is scheduled to hold its three-year evaluation of service provision performance and compliance at 6 p.m. Sept. 13, and Miller said she hopes residents come to the Great Barrington Firehouse to speak out on the matter.

Charter, which formally purchased Time Warner Cable in May, began working on the service provision with Berkshire communities last year. The company will operate the system under the brand name Spectrum.

The committee approved Charter's request to assume control over cable services in the towns of Great Barrington, Lenox, Lee, Sheffield and Stockbridge in September 2015.

During the public hearing on Charter's request to assume control over cable service in the five-town area last year, the company's director of governmental affairs, Tom Cohan, assured the committee that there would be no substantial changes to service if the deal went through, Miller said.

"Sadly, they have announced a very significant change," she said.

The change has to do with Spectrum's pivot to encrypted digital cable signals to protect itself from piracy. The encrypted signals will require converter boxes for digital televisions using Spectrum's cable service.

While the converter boxes will be provided free to customers for two years, there will be a monthly charge of $6.99 per box after that.

Miller pointed out that at $6.99 per box, Spectrum will be charging the equivalent of a rate increase of 100 percent for those with basic cable and two television sets. The boxes will not be available for purchase.

"Requiring subscribers to rent signal converters for all sets is tantamount to an unapproved rate increase," Miller said.

She said the charge also might violate the terms of the service agreement in place now. According to the agreement, Spectrum must make sure the technical upgrades can be done without imposing an undue financial burden on customers.

"Unless we get really good answers from Charter-Spectrum on this issue," Miller said, "we'll check in with our counsel to see what recourse is available."


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