It was well past midnight and Catherine Calvanese was enjoying some late night TV. Then, in a flash, her favorite show disappeared.
"The picture went to a blue screen, with words saying, you need to get a cable box," said the East Northport woman.
Calvanese found out the hard way what many Cablevision customers are learning by mail -- over the next few months, any TV not connected to a digital cable box will see cable service disrupted.
Cablevision is in the process of eliminating its remaining old-fashioned analog television signals for digital ones. Once that happens, TVs without cable boxes will not be able to convert those digital signals into images on the screen.
"Now you have a TV on a kitchen counter or on the wall and you've got to connect one of these boxes," lamented Dominick Galletta of East Northport, as he picked up a cable box.
Inconvenience isn't the only issue for Cablevision customers. While the boxes will be free at first, eventually, Cablevision will begin charging about seven dollars a month for each box.
"We are clearly moving to an all digital future," said a Cablevision statement. "We are extending a variety of offers to our Long Island customers to help make that transition."
"It just seems like a great way for them to make extra money," said customer Angela Porter.
The transition to all digital boxes will be implemented in several Long Island communities at a time, a Cablevision spokesman said. It is expected to be completed by early 2011. The process has already taken place in New York City and Connecticut.
In fact, every other TV service provider in the New York metropolitan area already requires digital boxes for each TV, a Cablevision spokesman stressed.
Still, some customers outside a Cablevision store in Huntington Station said they were now considering switching to satellite TV or Verizon Fios.
"This just isn't fair," said Denise Silvestri.
"It will clearly impact seniors and the working poor," said Suffolk legislator Ricardo Montano.
The Central Islip lawmaker chairs the county legislature's Consumer Protection Committee and plans to question Cablevision officials about the transition and added costs at a meeting next month.
"Maybe we just should stop watching TV in the kitchen," said Dominick Galletta as he headed for home.