FORT WORTH — For Charter Cable customers in North Texas who haven’t made the switch to digital programming, time is running out.In its largest launch of high-definition programming nationwide, Charter said it is spending $40 million to upgrade to an all-digital format and turning the switch off on the outdated analog signal from its network.In return, customers in more than 40 North Texas communities will soon have 141 high-definition channels on their television lineup, but they’ll need to get Charter-issued digital set-top boxes or CableCards for each television in their house to receive the digital signal, the company said.Charter will provide the boxes for free for now, but a $5-per-box, per-month charge will be added to bills in a year or two, depending on the level of service and the customer’s circumstances, said Brian Anderson, Charter’s director of communications in its southwest region.Some television viewers in Tarrant County have already been switched to the all-digital format, but Charter is concentrating on Fort Worth. The process will likely be completed by the end of May, Anderson said.Anderson said Charter does not specify how many customers it has in North Texas, only that it’s in the thousands. And, he said, there have been few complaints about the switch.“We have been very happy with the response we received from customers,” Anderson said. “There have been a few displeased customers, and we regret that.”Customers are required to pick up the boxes and install them. Anderson said the bags containing the boxes have detailed instructions, but if a customer gets home and still has trouble, a technician can help over the phone, and if that doesn’t work, will come to the home.“Analog is an outdated, inefficient technology,” said John Owen, Charter’s regional vice president in Fort Worth, in a statement. “In the bandwidth or channel space previously needed for providing just one analog channel, we can now provide multiple standard definition digital channels or HD channels. Charter is beginning a period of significant new investment in Texas with our all-digital effort.”In 2009, the Federal Communication Commission told over-the-air broadcasters that it could no longer transmit with an analog signal, but the rule did not apply to cable and satellite companies. Many television watchers required a converter box to receive the digital signal.The FCC last year allowed cable operators with all-digital systems to encrypt their services, which lets the operators to activate and deactivate cable service without sending a technician to your home, according the FCC website. Charter said it began encrypting the basic service tier in April.Anderson said Charter decided to make the switch when 96 percent of its Texas customers had digital on at least one television in a house.Weatherford, Cleburne, northwest Fort Worth, Blue Mound, Lake Worth, Saginaw, northeast Fort Worth, Richland Hills have been switched.Starting May 14, Charter customers in southwest Fort Worth, Benbrook and White Settlement will be switched, followed by southeast Fort Worth, Forest Hill, Kennedale and Mansfield on May 21, the company said.Highland Park and University Park in Dallas will follow and the entire project is scheduled to be done in mid-June.With this move, Charter said it is also increasing its Video On Demand offering to more than 12,000 options, including 2,500 HD titles.Customers needing the converter boxes can visit www.charter.com/digitalnow or call 1-888-438-2427.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST