RE: Qam doesn't help here!
If you have a cable ready HDTV with a built-in QAM receiver, you should be able to receive all unscrambled digital channels. This shuld include local and non premium channels. If you cannot, you should write your regulators (FCC, public utilities commission, etc.) right now. Yes, you. You must individually take the action. Don't assume otherw will. If you don't, then you will be in a world of hurt when next February rolls around with your cable provider and very limited, costly, and inconvienant choices. Don't believe me, just do nothing now and you will see the result.
I have no problem (so far) with Comcast. I can receive non premium channels unscrambled. I have multipile cable ready TVs and video disk recorders, all with QAM cable ready receivers built in. I do not require a set top box for these devices to work, I can use the factory remotes, program the video disk recorder, etc.
I also decided to obtain a HD TiVo so I could record HD programming. It also had a built in QAM receiver, so I had all the basic choices to receive and record HDTV on the basic channels. Recently, I decided to add the optional cable card so that I would have accesss to extended HD service and the extreme convienance of programming the "season passes" for HD programs by name, using the directory service. This was optional (which so far makes me a happy Comcast camper) and for this one device I decided to pay for the option and not move to satellite since cable with cable ready QAM service is simply better and more flexible.
As long as our providers offer choice including the Cable Ready choice for non premium channels (and offer them unscrambled via QAM) then I believe the transition will go very well. If your local cable provider does not allow use of cable ready QAM receivers, then you have only poor choices and you will have to choose between lousey and/or costly choices for all the devices in your home (TVs, recorders, etc.). You will need to join the grass roots movement in your locality to reverse this preadtory practice, and meanwhile, consider using TiVos with cable cards to get you through the rough times. If you write your regulators now, you wont have to wait 9 months after the lights go out next February to get your good choices back.
By the way, make sure you don't have hidden unscrambled QAM channels before giving up and investing time writing regulators. You may discover by doing a channel search that you do in fact have unscramble digital channels on your cable. It is just not going to be widly promoted, you have to search for these channels.
Hope this helps.