Fort Mill Times

Cable switch makes waves with Fort Mill customer

You've probably seen the commercials about the impending switch from analog broadcasts to digital, the ones that say if you receive cable, the switch won't affect you.

However, internal changes at Comporium may leave some subscribers questioning why the company is requiring them to rent new equipment.

There are actually two switches underway. The Federal Communications Commission will require all over the air broadcasts to switch from analog signals to digital ones by February. Also, Comporium is switching its cable signals from analog to digital, according to Frank Marshall, vice president of Residential Service. The move is intended to free up space for additional channels.

"The FCC mandated switch... is totally different than what we're doing," Marshall said. "We're converting our Basic Plus package to an all-digital signal."

Marshall said the new digital signal delivers better picture and sound quality over the standard Basic Plus package. The company's customer base is divided into nodes and Comporium is transitioning individual nodes to the new signal.

Everyone should be receiving the digital signal by April, he said.

With the switch, customers are getting five new channels with the Basic Plus package. However, customers who do not have TV sets with built-in digital tuners will have to use a Comporium set-top converter box to view all of the channels. The company will provide one box at no cost, Marshall said, but additional boxes for other non-digital sets will cost $4.95 per month, which is $2 per month less than the company had been charging for converter boxes prior to the switch.

One of the nodes in Fort Mill Township was switched to the digital signal on Sept. 15. Randy Morris, a Comporium customer for the last 15 years, happens to live in that node and he is not happy about the way Comporium handled the switch.

"It sounds like a rip-off to me," Morris said.

Morris has three TVs; One is a new flat screen, digital ready TV and the other two are older analog models. Now, to view all the channels he already pays for on both of those sets, he'll have to spend an extra $4.95 per month to rent a second converter box. And Morris disputes that the first box is "free" because his bill for the Basic Plus package increased $5 per month when the switch to digital occurred.

"They say the extra channels are free but I can't see them on two TVs unless I rent another box," Morris complained.

Marshall said Comporium has made efforts to contact customers about the switch and how it could affect them. He said the company sent out information in the mail and sent employees around to the neighborhoods in the first node that switched prior to the change.

"The same day they flipped the switch I got a big glossy brochure about Direct TV," Morris said.

"They knew this was coming."