BY CAROL THOMPSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Charter Communications cable television customers who did not have digital converter boxes saw screens go black this week as the company cut its analog programming.
That happened to Paul Vitrano, who showed up at Charter’s temporary store on Garfield Road on Wednesday to learn more about getting converter boxes for his televisions.
“If you want it, you’re going to pay for it,” Vitrano said. “It’s a bad way to do business, but what can people do about it?”
Charter dropped its analog service because TV programs are transmitted in digital form, and the company had been paying to downgrade the digital signal into an analog one. It’s providing one digital converter box to each customer for free for a year, but each additional box costs $6.99 per month.
Vitrano has seven TVs and re-wired his Maple City house to run cable to reach them. He already had a digital converter box for one of them and the rest were just plugged into the wall.
“The other TVs now are going to be used for game-playing and DVDs,” he said.
Vitrano is just one Charter customer who’s takign a long look at what they’re willing to pay for cable.
Rosemary and Harry Friend are abandoning cable on four of the seven TVs they have leftover from the bed and breakfast they closed last year. The move saves them almost $30 a month, or $335 a year.
The Friends, both 83, have been Charter customers for 21 years. They went to Charter’s temporary store to get another digital converter box and pick up the cord and new channel guide that didn’t come with the box they received in the mail.
“Everything is changing around us, and half the stuff we got in the boxes didn’t work,” Rosemary said.
Freida and Bob Pleasant are downsizing, too. They have five TVs but are only getting digital converter boxes for two to save money. Three more boxes would cost the couple $250 a year.
“As far as I’m concerned, I liked what I had,” Bob said. “This is a good way (for Charter) to get $14 more a month.”
Karen Sherwood might give up cable TV altogether and rely on Internet and an antenna, since she mostly watches local news.
“I’m not home enough to watch TV, and I’m not much of a TV person,” she said.
Vitrano said he’s looking at other options.
“If there was a competition, and I don’t know what the competition would be, I’d go with it,” he said.
Some customers, like Trevor McMartin, will keep the same amount of service. McMartin visited the Charter store on Trade Centre Drive on Wednesday to pick up a box for his TV that relied on analog service.
McMartin didn’t mind the short wait in the store, but he was happy with the analog picture and wishes Charter hadn’t made the switch.
Bill Morand, Charter Communications’ director of Northeast Michigan, said cutting analog service will mean the company can improve Internet service, and customers who have digital TV for the first time will be impressed.
As for customers reducing the number of TVs they connect, Morand said it’s a matter of setting priorities.
“I understand some people had six TVs hooked up to analog signal, and that maybe is not within their budget,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re forgoing anything.”