How to get digital cable for free?
Cox estimates that 20 percent of its subscribers are analog only. Others have some digital cable service - on a primary TV set, for example - but have analog cable on secondary sets; these customers will need converter boxes on the secondary sets.
The company doesn't have a tracking mechanism to count secondary-set analog users, said Bruce Berkinshaw, Cox director of marketing. It estimates that 50 percent of its digital subscribers will need a new box of some kind to continue using those TVs.
"It could be half of our digital customers, " he said. "We don't have network intelligence on that."
Cox said it will supply digital "mini-boxes" to analog-cable users – some free of charge for as long as five years. Eventually, these will carry a $2.99 monthly rental fee, the company said.
Customers who currently subscribe to Cox's "Starter Analog" package will receive two free mini-boxes for two years. If the Starter Analog customer is a Medicaid recipient, it's two free for five years.
"Essential Analog" customers are eligible for two free mini-boxes for one year. Digital customers are eligible for one free mini-box for one year.
Additional mini-boxes carry a $2.99 monthly fee. That applies to customers on all plans once their free-use term expires.
Current Cox customers who get their cable signals via CableCARD-enabled TV sets won't need a mini-box, Berkinsaw said. "For customers with digital receivers on their televisions, there's nothing they need to do, " Berkinshaw said. "They won't even see this as an issue.
"Any television connected directly into a wall plate will need some type of device in order to receive channels."
The transition, scheduled to end by early next year, mirrors a national trend, said Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based cable-industry analyst. "Cox, along with Comcast and Time Warner and Charter, are all moving toward this same digital universe, " Kagan said. "This digital product does have lots of benefits, but you also lose others. Depending on who you are, you're either going to love it or you're not.
"Customers who want all the new features, who want all the new technology, will love it. Customers who are happy with their plain old cable television won't like it. The reason they won't like it is (that) it will cost more to have a box on every television."