Boxee, Your Basic Cable and Encryption

July 9, 2012

Earlier this year, Boxee registered its strong opposition to the FCC proposal that would allow cable companies to encrypt basic cable channels (transmitted as clear QAM). As an alternative, Boxee advocated a standards-based IP solution. The cable companies, on the other hand, have been pushing for the rule change to prevent theft of service and reduce the number of visits to the home. The end result would be the requirement for a cable box or CableCARD enabled device for every TV in your home as reported last December.

As originally reported in Multi-Channel news, Boxee and Comcast have struck a deal that addresses the issues raised by Boxee concerning the encryption of basic cable. The letter details a short-term and long-term solution. The short term solution would be a IP-enabled digital transport adapter (an “E-DTA”) that could access encrypted streams from the cable company. The E-DTA would not use a IR blaster but instead use a protocol such as DLNA to change channels (meaning it would probably receive a single stream or channel at a time). The longer-term solution would integrate the E-DTA into the Boxee box. Other third-party boxes could utilize the technology by a “licensing path”.

As I read the agreement, I asked myself, “Does the solution actually address the issues originally raised by Boxee?”

From Boxee’s own blog last February:

There is another interesting thing about the proposed rule-making. There are no benefits for consumers. None. Millions of users who currently connect cable directly to their TV or tuner (without a set top box) will see their screens go dark. To bring back the signal they will need to go pick up a box or schedule a visit from the cable guy… with the extra “benefit” of having to pay a monthly fee for that new box…

When Boxee argued against encrypting basic cable, they not only cited how it would cut off access for their box but also for cable-ready TVs. Encrypting basic cable would still require some external device for cable-ready TVs. While I’m all about progress, there needs to be some transition period for existing cable-ready devices including the Boxee’s Live TV Dongle, the Series1 and Series2 TiVos and the HD Homerun (don’t forget the couple of VCRs out there too). However, the most significant impact would be the universe of cable-ready TVs that would stop working. Boxee’s agreement seems to forget about all of the cable-ready devices and TVs they previously advocated for.

If the E-DTA could easily work with any third-party box, it would be progress. In other words, you wouldn’t be forced to lease a box from the cable company. You would have the choice of buying a set top boxes from other manufacturers. However, I’m not that confident that this solution will become a standard. There was no mention of other cable or consumer electronics companies being involved in the development. The word “standard” was also not used in the Comcast-Boxee FCC letter. In the letter, it sounds like other companies would have to pay a licensing fee to use the technology. This would limit the universe of third-party boxes that could connect to cable systems. Both technology companies and consumers would be better served by an open standard. An open standard would keep down costs for consumers.

Regardless, anything that offers an improvement over CableCARD is a step forward. While Boxee is no longer advocating for unencrypted basic-cable, you can still make your voice heard. The FCC is still accepting comments on the proposal here.  Your cable-ready TV would appreciate it.

Boxee Box

Prepare for an encrypted transmission to your Boxee

Tags: Boxee, cable, CableCARD, FCC

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