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CABLE PROVIDER RCN SCRAMBLES LOCAL CHANNELS

TV Follow Consumer World on Twitter (BOSTON, April 10, 2013) - Thousands of Boston-area RCN cable subscribers awoke today to find that their high definition televisions had become expensive doorstops. Overnight, the company encrypted the signals of all local basic TV channels rendering any televisions without a cable box completely inoperative. RCN is believed to be one of the first cable operators in the country to implement a little-known FCC ruling by encrypting basic channels, scheduled to start today in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

Last October, the FCC ruled that any all-digital cable companies could scramble the signals of local TV channels which, up until that time, had been required to be transmitted "in the clear." That meant that basic channels could be picked up without the need for a set-top box by any subscriber with a high definition television equipped with a built-in QAM tuner.

"I would imagine that thousands of RCN customers were shocked when they turned on their televisions today and didn't have a picture because they didn't prepare for the change," commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky.

In March, as required by FCC rules, RCN sent subscribers a 30-day advance notice indicating that as of April 10, all televisions connected to their service would be required to have a set-top box. [See: http://rcn.com/boxes ] To ease the transition, the FCC ordered that cable companies provide customers with one or two "devices" free to decrypt the new signals for a period of up to two years, depending on the customer's level of service.

Nothing in the FCC rule required that these free boxes transmit a high definition signal that customers were enjoying up until today without a box. Accordingly, RCN's website states that subscribers can only receive a standard definition cable box free. After the free period, subscribers will be forced to rent a box (currently about $10 a month for an HD box), buy a box if any come to market (but it will require the monthly rental of a CableCARD), or go back to using rabbit ears. Some RCN customers, however, have been able to negotiate a free HD box for one year.

The new rule is expected to primarily affect secondary televisions in many households - the ones in the den, kitchen, bedroom or guest room -- which are less likely to have a cable box or DVR already attached to them. According to Nielsen, 65.9 million households have three or more TVs. Dworsky himself has three HDTVs and a TV tuner in his PC that will each require a new cable box.

Although Comcast has not yet encrypted its basic channels, the company is expected to do so as soon as its digital transition is complete, since it was one of the companies that had lobbied the FCC to allow scrambling of basic channels.

"The change in the rules is going to trigger a significant added expense for cable customers with multiple TVs," said Dworsky. "Who would think that in 2013 we would have to resort to going back to using rabbit ears just to view local television channels. Thanks, FCC."

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Consumer World®, launched in 1995, is a public service consumer resource guide with over 2000 links to everything "consumer" on the Internet. Edgar Dworsky, a longtime consumer advocate, is the founder of Consumer World, editor of MousePrint.org – an educational site devoted to exposing the fine print loopholes in advertising, and a former Assistant Attorney General in the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office.



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