Cable Technology Feature Article
Comcast Locks Up Access to Basic Cable
By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor
No. 1 cable MSO Comcast (News - Alert) is set to begin encrypting its basic cable channels, it has announced, meaning that a digital device will be required on every TV in order to unscramble the signals.
Households that already have a digital Comcast set-top box, digital adapter or a CableCARD are all set, but older subscriber accounts with outdated equipment will need to upgrade.
The cableco has started notifying its subscribers of the new requirements in an echo of the digital transition it has made in the last few years with higher tiers of service, moving customers onto an updated set-top box on a market-by-market basis.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) proposed last fall that all cable channels, basic or not, be encrypted in order for MSOs to control subscriber access remotely—in theory improving customer service and reducing costs. But offerings like the Boxee (News - Alert) Box and others that provide free access to IP-enabled clear QAM feeds of basic cable are among those likely to be the most affected.
“To mitigate any harm to the small group of consumers that may use such devices, NCTA's (News - Alert) six largest incumbent cable members – serving 86 percent of all cable subscribers – have committed to adopt, prior to encrypting, a solution that would provide basic service tier access to third-party provided IP-enabled clear QAM devices,” the FCC said.
Accordingly, Comcast and Boxee have at least agreed on a workaround to enable Boxee owners to continue to get clear QAM channels. No word on other third-party STB solutions yet in the FAQ, however.
It may be a hassle, but the transition won’t break the bank: Limited Basic customers who don’t already have equipment on their account are eligible (within a period around the time of encryption) for up to two digital adapters (DTA) at no charge for two years (five years if they also receive Medicaid). Customers who subscribe to a higher level of service and receive Limited Basic service on a secondary TV without Comcast supplied equipment are eligible for one device at no charge for one year.
Otherwise, DTAs for Limited Basic customers will go for 50 cents per device per month. All other customers will continue to pay a $1.99/month additional outlet service charge for each outlet registered to a DTA.
It should be worth noting that a digital adapter, while it provides digital-quality signals, differs from an STB in some important ways: it doesn’t offer access to an on-screen channel guide, PPV content, premium channels or XFINITY On Demand programming.
And, viewable channels vary based on the customers level of service.
Edited by Braden Becker