As reported in Multi-channel news, the cable industry wants to encrypt the basic cable channels going to your home. The FCC’s Policy Division has proposed new rules that would end the current ban on encrypting basic cable channels which dates back to the 1990s. In another words, if you have a cable-ready TV (or VCR or TiVo), you don’t need a cable box or CableCard to receive the first block of channels which include your local stations. The cable industry is advocating for this change to help prevent theft of service and reduce the need for visits from the cable guy to activate or deactiavte service (saving costs and carbon emissions).
The FCC appears to be giving more weight to the potential benefits for cable companies versus a minority of consumers. Their rationale is that since only a small numer of customers may be affected, it’s ok to make the change (among other reasons). I always thought the government was there to protect the rights of the minority, even if it’s basic cable subscribers. To be fair to the FCC, they have asked for feedback on how this change will affect citizens.
Both the Cities of Boston and New York have already supplied this feedback to the FCC. The City of Boston cited a number of concerns. For one, it believes that the FCC is underestimating the number of subscribers that will be affected by the change. Also, the change would be detrimental to Boston institutional users such as schools that can now access cable without equipment. Boston already negotiated free institutional access as part of the cable companies’ franchise agreement. Finally, the City of Boston finds fault with only having the FCC’s suggested limited-term remedies for consumers. If cable operators will enjoy the benefits long term, the City of Boston argues, then why should consumers have to pay additional for boxes in the long term.
The City of New York argues only for a temporary lifting of the ban given the rapid technology changes in consumer electronics. The City also suggests doubling the period for free equipment to access basic cable.
Finally, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), stated they oppose the lifting of the encryption ban. According to the CEA’s comments, they view the FCC proposal as reactive and piecemeal. The CEA believes the FCC needs to be looking at digital media and devices as a whole and the coming transition to IP (Internet based video).
The good news is that if the rule does pass and customers aren’t happy with it there are other choices. One choice is Verizon FIOS. I reached out to FIOS to see if they planned to encrypt their basic service if the FCC rules are changed. FIOS stated that they do not currently encrypt their basic tier and have not made any request to the FCC to do so. To read into the comment a bit, FIOS probably has no intention of implementing the encryption. However, given its fiber optic infrastructure, FIOS is not subject to the same theft of service that cable is susceptible to.
The other choice is to go the antenna route. Unlike basic cable, there’s no monthly charge and you can get HD quality picture over the air. Another choice is to use Internet based video from a device like a Roku or Boxee. There’s no lack of movies or TV shows to watch from video streaming services. While some of the news and sports options are limited, some local TV stations have built apps to access their news broadcasts over the Internet.
The other unforeseen consequence is that the rule change may drive TVs out of the bedroom and guest rooms and folks will turn to alternate devices such as tablets and smart phones.