Charter Communications is switching all of its Madison area customers to digital only, starting in mid-March.
It means that to watch any cable TV channel, the television you want to use will have to be equipped with a digital set-top box issued by Charter. The boxes translate the encrypted television signals.
The change will affect tens of thousands of Charter customers in south-central Wisconsin, Charter spokeswoman Kim Haas said. She declined to give exact figures, saying Charter does not disclose the size of its customer base.
“About 90 percent of our customers already have at least one (box). Our focus now is that every customer is covered and that they have their secondary TVs covered, as well,” Haas said.
Each set-top box costs $6.99 a month — on top of the fee for subscribing to cable television. Charter said it will waive the charge for at least one new box for at least one year for all current customers. Digital video recorder (DVR) boxes are not included in the fee waiver.
The nation’s fourth-largest cable provider, Charter said getting rid of analog signals, which take up more bandwidth, will give it room for more high-definition TV channels and more video-on-demand options.
The company, based in Stamford, Conn., also said it will double the speed of residential Internet service, at no extra charge, when the rollover is complete sometime this summer. “It’s a better platform for our customers,” Haas said.
The digital transition will be phased in, starting March 11. The first area communities affected are: Barneveld; Black Earth; Dodgeville; Lodi; Mazomanie; Mineral Point; Mount Horeb; Portage; Poynette; Prairie du Sac; Richland Center; Sauk City; Spring Green; Windsor; and Waunakee.
Residents will get letters at least 30 days in advance, Haas said. Those in Madison are scheduled for the change in early April.
Haas said as the transition is made, customers will be able to get more high-definition channels, going from around 100 to more than 200 by the end of the summer, depending on the subscriber’s level of service.
To accommodate an expected increase in customer service needs, Charter has extended hours for its two offices, at 2701 Daniels St., Madison, and 2935 S. Fish Hatchery Road, Fitchburg, and has added a third location, 515 Junction Road, through mid-May.
All three locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays.
Subscribers can get digital boxes sent to their homes, if they want to set up the boxes on their own, at no additional shipping cost.
Having a technician come out and install the boxes will cost $29.99.
Customers who have analog TV sets can get the digital signals but they won’t come in high-definition. If they don’t want to get a set-top box, they can hook up an antenna to receive over-the-air channels.
“Are they likely to do it? Probably not,” said UW-Madison telecommunications professor Barry Orton. “More likely, they will say, ‘I’ve had it with Charter’ and go to (ATT’s) U-verse or Dish TV(satellite).”
As for which service will be a better deal, Orton said it depends on how many channels — and which ones — a customer wants to buy.
Charter suggested customers go online to www.charter.com/digitalnow or call 888-438-2427 for more information.