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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 30, 2012

Comcast on Verge of Getting Approval to Encrypt Basic Cable

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

In a bid to reduce both service calls and cable theft, Comcast, along with a coalition of other service providers, has been lobbying for FCC (News - Alert) permission to begin encrypting basic cable signals. Reports from earlier today, meanwhile, indicate that the FCC is very close to providing that permission, with Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) urging the rest of the commissioners to lift the prohibition.

This isn't the first that the FCC has heard from cable providers wanting to encrypt their signals, either; proposals go back to last year when New York's Cablevision Systems (News - Alert) Corp. and RCN Telecom Services looked to join in the fray. RCN in particular had a problem with this, as fully one-fifth of 134 households whose service was cut off later contacted the company to subscribe. RCN called this "clear evidence that they had previously been viewing cable without paying" and it's hard to imagine other explanations for this.

Moreover, Cablevision rang in a note of support in its own right, saying that, with encryption--which they were permitted to do for a while under a waiver from the FCC--they no longer needed to send trucks to disconnect service, which serves several different benefits for both Cablevision and society as a whole. Indeed, Comcast's own filings supported this, saying that with basic-tier encryption, they could cancel service remotely, which users seemed to prefer over trying to schedule an appointment with technicians to come out and do the job.

However, some are concerned about this move, including third-party equipment makers, notably Boxee (News - Alert), who had some concerns about users being able to access basic-cable channels through their Boxee Boxes if encryption were allowed. But Genachowski's proposal acknowledges this problem, and includes methods for allowing Boxee and the like to continue offering equipment.

The proposal, meanwhile, is in play at the FCC, which faces a vote but no deadline for action, so seeing just when this finally comes out may take some time. It makes perfect sense for cable providers to want the option to encrypt their channels. The recent move to digital has left signals somewhat easier to steal than their analog counterparts, and having some kind of protection in place against that is a welcome benefit for cable companies. The ability to cancel remotely is good for companies and consumers alike, and if reduced theft can result in reduced prices, then that's good for the consumer too.

We'll have a while to wait before final results on this one, but hopefully, the proposal of Comcast et al will turn out to benefit all involved, except the cable thieves.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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