FCC to Allow Encryption of Basic Cable Channels

Earlier this year, Boxee and the Consumer Electronics Agency teamed up for a scuffle with the cable companies. The dispute arose as the FCC was reviewing rules that prevented cable companies from encrypting basic tier channels. Cable companies had been restricted from encrypting these channels for a number of years, but the FCC was reviewing whether the restrictions should remain in place as part of the review of the analog must-carry rules. Boxee and other consumer electronics manufacturers were concerned that they were about to be locked out of offering products that could be plugged directly into a coaxial jack. 

The FCC has decided to go ahead with raising the prohibition on basic channel encryption, but the 6 major cable companies will have to meet one of two criteria before they can move ahead. The cable companies can choose to offer converter boxes such as the ones that Boxee and Comcast agreed to work on this summer that will enable devices to receive the encrypted signal, with the stipulation that the convertors be made available for free for a minimum of two years. Alternatively, the cable companies will have to develop software-based decryption systems that can be licensed to CE manufacturers for inclusion in their devices. Undoubtedly the cable companies already have a phalanx of accountants crunching numbers to see which nets the greatest return in the long run: rental fees for the convertors or licensing fees for the software-based solution.

The days of plugging a TV into the wall and getting cable are coming to an end. After a lengthy review process, the FCC has granted cable operators permission to encrypt their most basic cable programming. But the commission is inserting a number of measures it’s hoping will prevent the public from suddenly finding themselves without access and open the door for third-party set-top boxes like the upcoming Boxee TV. 

The Verge