'You're a rip-off': At forum, dozens of Spectrum customers fume over cable box fees, service woes

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CAROLINE BONNIVIER SNYDER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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PITTSFIELD — Fed up with high-priced, faulty converter boxes, erratic service and channel surfing for stations moved without warning, local Spectrum subscribers lashed out at the communications giant Monday night.

Dozens of the roughly 130 cable television customers gathered at the Berkshire Athenaeum vented, with some humor, about how Spectrum has treated them since they bought out Time Warner Cable a year ago.

In protest, Joe Dziengiel suggested boycotting Spectrum.

"Maybe the whole city of Pittsfield should drop their service for a month," he said to rousing applause of approval.

The public hearing orchestrated and moderated by Mayor Linda Tyer was a one-sided affair. The two Spectrum representatives in attendance sat listening with stoic faces, not responding to any of the issues raised. That's a far cry from the December meeting four company officials attended in Great Barrington who did address customer concerns.

Spectrum, a brand of Charter Communications, has been in the hot seat since it began requiring converter boxes in December for South Berkshire subscribers, February for Northern Berkshire and as of March 6 in the Pittsfield area

Spectrum has transitioned to an encrypted, all-digital signal, which, it says, will help provide better service, including faster internet speeds, more channels and on-demand content, and more features.

Customers who previously were able to view some channels by connecting their TVs directly to the cable outlet must now obtain converter boxes for each television.

The boxes have frustrated many Spectrum subscribers, including state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield.

"My husband got so angry, he threw the box out the window," she said.

Several told stories of repeatedly replacing faulty boxes, getting the wrong instructions or difficult to use.

"I re-program and reboot it every other day ... you're a rip off," said Carol O'Grady.

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Mostly, subscribers are miffed they have to pay a monthly rental fee for the boxes.

Spectrum customers are eligible to receive at least one free box for one, two or five years, depending on their programming package, and customers who qualify for Medicaid might receive two free digital receivers for up to five years, the company has said.

Once the free period ends, the monthly fee for digital receivers will be $6.99 for those with Spectrum television packages, and $11.75 per box for those who have legacy Time Warner cable packages.

Linda Harrison questioned why can't she buy the boxes.

"Give me a price, I'll buy it," she said to the company representatives. "There's no need for me to keep renting so you can make money."

Rearranging the channel line-up also a bone of contention with local cable subscribers, especially moving the three Pittsfield Community Television channels to from Channels 16, 17 and 18 to the upper tier of 1301, 1302 and 1303. A Charter Communications spokesman told The Eagle in Sunday's paper the customers prefer grouping channels according to a programming theme as they search based on content.

PCTV Executive Director Shawn Serre disputed that claim.

"I guarantee you haven't made these channels easier to find," he said. "You moved the channels for your own benefit, not the customers benefit."

Several Spectrum users spoke of spotty television reception and unreliable customer service.

Nancy McNab recalled getting nowhere in phoning Spectrum about getting certain sports programming.

"One time I got a woman in the Philippines who didn't know what baseball was," she said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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