Cable companies may owe you money!

Good news everybody!

The government we all love so much to hate enacted several new rules with regards to the cable companies, which mean that you might be entitled for some refunds.

The new rules went into effect this month are related to the usage of CableCARD’s. What it is and how is it good for you?

CableCARD is a device same size as a regular credit card, and is used for deciphering encrypted digital video transmitted by the cable companies. This device can be used instead of the set-top-box provided by the cable companies, if you have a decoder that supports it.

Examples of such decoders are TV’s (many TV’s have CableCARD slots that allow hooking them directly to the cables without any set-top-box in between), retail DVR’s (such as TiVo), and other devices (even computers with special hardware and software might support it).

Most commonly you would be using CableCARD’s with your TiVo, or a TV hooked directly to the cables’ feed.

For satellite subscribers (like DISH or DirecTV) a different kind of deciphering cards is used, and for these subscribers the new rules are irrelevant. However if you have a digital cable service (such as Comcast, Cox, Charter, Suddenlink, RCN, and other providers), read on.

So what are the new rules?

1. Pay only for equipment that you have. I.e.: if the subscription fee includes amounts for equipment rental (such as a DVR or set-top-box provided by the cable company) and you don’t rent it (because you have your CableCARD enabled TV or a retail DVR such as TiVo) – you’re entitled for a discount.

2. Accurate information for the rental costs from your cable company must be posted online and in your bills. It must be a separate line on your bill and must be available online and if requested over the phone. The charge for renting a CableCARD is ~$1-2 for most cable companies.

3. You cannot be charged extra for using your own equipment. If your company charges you for using your own CableCARD enabled TV or a retail DVR – you’re entitled for a refund.

4. You can receive as much CableCARD’s as you wish, and the cable company must supply them to you (for the fee, as mentioned in rule #2). You cannot be denied a CableCARD or forced to rent the cable company equipment.

5. You are entitled to receive a “Multi Stream” CableCARD unless you specifically ask not to. Multi Stream CableCARD is a newer device that can decipher multiple programs at once, and is required for devices like TiVo which have several tuners and can record programs in the background while you’re watching something else. Some retail DVR models allow using a couple of Single Stream CableCARD’s instead, but that means you’d be renting two or more cards and paying for them, instead of using one Multi Stream CableCARD. Until this rule was enacted, cable companies could force you to rent several Single Stream cards instead of one Multi Stream, and charge more money for the same service. If that happened to you – you’re entitled to request a Multi Stream CableCARD and return the others.

6. Receive all “linear” (not “On Demand”) channels in your package. You cannot be denied access to channels in your package just because you decided not to rent the cable provider’s equipment. If they say “you have to use our equipment to watch this channel” – then from now on they’re breaking a law. For VOD (Video On Demand) however there’s still no requirement because CableCARD’s don’t support this feature.

7. All the information about the services available to the CableCARD users must be accurate and available. You should be able to find all the information about what services you can receive with your CableCARD enabled TV or TiVo on your cable company’s internet site, or over the phone.

For the official rules including the FCC rule numbers and references, see here:

CableCARD: Know Your Rights |

For more details and examples of refunds (like the $2.50 refund we’re getting from Comcast here in the Bay area) see here:

New FCC Regulations Give Consumers Easier Access to CableCARDS « TiVo Blog.

and here:

Enjoy your digital TV!

Your Little Advisor.

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