Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fewer Unencrypted QAM & Analog Cable Channels Coming Soon


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled to allow cable companies to use cheap, one-way digital set top boxes with encryption on them via a three-year granting of a waiver to the FCC rule that had prohibited the use of set-top boxes with integrated security functionality.  Sounds harmless enough, but its really a bad thing for many consumers – especially HTPC users.

Here’s the conclusion right from the FCC Ruling itself:

For the reasons stated above, we conclude that the Subject Boxes are eligible for waiver under the “low-cost, limited capability” standard articulated in the 2005 Deferral Order as applied in the Evolution Order because the Subject Boxes are only capable of doing what is necessary to make digital cable programming viewable on analog television sets.

Currently, many cable subscribers can tune any analog channels along with unencrypted QAM channels with their TV tuner or PC tuners without needing a cable box or DVR.  Some even get many of their digital QAM channels unencrypted as well – beyond the local channels.  But once cable operators begin down this path thanks to the exemption granted Monday, they will hand out these cheap DTAs (Digital to Analog Adapters) to the basic & extended basic cable customers (those without DVRs) to tune their channels.  This will allow the cable companies to speed the ending of those remaining analog channels – the ones you can tune without a cable box.  It will also allow those cable companies who still have many of their QAM (digital) channels unencrypted (don’t require a cable box) to encrypt everything except for the local channels.

Jeff Baumgartner of Cable Digital News talks of the 3-year waiver allowing the encryption of DTA signals:

"The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Media Bureau has granted three-year waivers to Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices made by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Thomson (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), and Pace Micro Technology , a decision that looks to benefit Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) the most in the near-term, but could also spur adoption of the devices by numerous other U.S. cable MSOs.
"The waivers give Comcast and, potentially, other operators the green light to deploy those inexpensive, one-way "channel zappers" (they cost about $35 each) with security enabled, thereby sidestepping an integrated security ban that took effect in July 2007. Those waivers will also give MSOs access to simple digital-to-analog converter boxes that cost much less than entry-level, interactive set-tops that rely on removable CableCARDs to decrypt and authorize digital video signals.
(See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)"

Comcast has been pushing out DTAs in large numbers already – just without the security functionality enabled.  This ruling allows them to begin “turning on” the security via a firmware update.

Bottom line - this should slam shut the last remaining door for viewing and/or recording non-local channels without a cable box.  Of course we’re nearing (or at) the time when everyone wants their TV in High Def anyway right? 

You can pour over the FCC Ruling at fcc.gov

via MultiChannel News