Cox cable service changes will mean service upgrades, eventually higher costs _lowres

Photo courtesy of COX - Cox said it has started to phase out its analog cable service, a move that will allow customers to get more high-definition channels, access to faster internet service and increase the amount of OnDemand programming. The move means that customers will need a cable box in order to get programs. Cox said it will offer "mini boxes" free of charge for one year, then charge $2.99 a month per box.

Cox is phasing out its analog cable service, a move that will require customers to eventually rent cable boxes for each of their TVs but provide them with more high-definition channels, access to faster internet service and an increase in the amount of onDemand programming.

Cox will offer “mini boxes” about the size of two iPhones stacked on top of each other free for one year. After the 12-month period, customers will pay $2.99 a month for each box.

About a quarter of Cox customers have analog service, meaning they are getting channels without having a cable box. This limits the amount of service those customers are receiving, said Bruce Berkinshaw, director of marketing for Cox.

Because the customers don’t have a cable box, they get about 70 channels, compared with the 350 channels available to Cox customers, Berkinshaw said. The amount of high-definition programming they get is limited and they don’t have access to the interactive channel guide available to digital subscribers.

The analog bandwidth is “very bloated” and not efficient, Berkinshaw said. The analog bandwidth accounts for 40 percent of Cox’s total bandwidth, but 8 percent of the channels it offers. By getting rid of analog service, it will free up bandwidth for additional services to all Cox subscribers.

“We’ll use the additional bandwidth for more HD channels, more OnDemand programming and superfast internet service,” he said. The move will allow Cox to offer its G1GABLAST service, which provides customers with download speeds that are 100 times faster than standard household services, to all customers. Previously, the gigabit service was available only in a handful of new residential developments.

Analog customers won’t have to initially pay more to move up to digital service. The move will allow subscribers to get some popular basic channels, such as the SEC Network, Fox Business and the Oprah Winfrey Network. The shift won’t result in the loss of any channels.

While broadcast signals have been all-digital for a few years, Cox held off making the switch. But Berkinshaw said the time is right, now that digital HD sets are so prevalent in U.S. households. According to research from the Leichtman Research Group, the number of homes with at least one HD set jumped from 19 percent at the end of 2005 to 81 percent at the end of 2014. Those figures include households without cable or satellite service. For Cox subscribers, about 85 percent of homes have an HD set, Berkinshaw said.

The phase-out is happening for all Cox subscribers, from Virginia to California.

Locally, the mini boxes have been available for Cox customers in metro New Orleans since Monday. They will be available for Baton Rouge and Lafayette area subscribers beginning Sept. 9.

The plan is to start shifting some analog channels to digital at the end of October. By late January, all analog programming will be moved over and encrypted, Berkinshaw said.

“We’re in the process of notifying our analog customers,” he said.

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