FCC to allow television signal encryption?

FCC to allow television signal encryption?

Summary: Say goodbye to your stolen TV channels.

TOPICS: Tech Industry

The FCC is close to giving a number of cable companies permission to encrypt basic-tier signals, according to Bloomberg.

A number of cable companies, led by Comcast, have asked for permission in the U.S. to lift an encryption prohibition which has been enforced since 1994. Encryption has been in place since the time cable dominated the industry -- in order to make sure consumers wouldn't need a set-top box to access local stations.

If accepted, then cable theft will be more difficult to accomplish -- as Comcast would be able to stop and start services remotely. The firm also said that by granting permission to encrypt basic-tier signals, service calls would be reduced.

At the moment, TV sets with modern tuners can often access unencrypted basic-service packages.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission proposed allowing encryption following requests from companies including Cablevision and RCN Telecom Services.

RCN found that almost one-fifth of households subscribed to television services only after an audit in Chicago last year which resulted in cut-off cable connections. The firm said this was "clear evidence that they had previously been viewing cable without paying". In addition, the Virginia-based company said it has seen rising levels of theft as digital signals are easier to steal than analog services.

In a filing, Cablevision found that under a previous waiver issued by the FCC, costs were reduced as basic-tier encryption almost completely removed the need to send crews to disconnect services.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which includes Cablevision, Time Warner Cable and Comcast, claimed that in 2004 roughly 5 percent of homes were using services without paying -- which equated to almost $5 billion in lost earnings.

Topic: Tech Industry

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Huh?

    I'm confused here. What exactly are consumers doing? Is the problem that some TVs tuners can get the basic cable channels without the need for a settop box? Is the idea here that consumers should be forced to pay for a settop box for every TV in the house, not just the ones used for watching premium channels?

    Typical greedy cable companies.
  • Right...

    They are in a panic because cable tv in its current form will soon go the way of the land line. Why pay for TV service at crazy high rates (they recently did a $20/month price hike in my area) when services are becoming available over the internet? If these companies had any sense at all they would start providing an online stream of all of their programming for a lower rate. They don't even need to provide a physical cable at that point (other than for their internet services) and anyone anywhere could subscribe with that cable company using any ISP.
    • Online stream of programming

      I have also questioned for quite some time why cable companies do not provide streams of their programming over the internet, which would allow for an even larger potential audience than their current geographical viewing areas. It seems like the perfect option for the consumer, assuming that it would result in cheaper prices - but I think that is exactly why we don't see these services offered.

      Cable companies operate in geographical monopolies; they can charge outrageous rates because they do not have competition (outside of satellite services which come with their own issues). It would not be in the interest of cable companies to lose that monopoly position by giving customers an avenue to get service from another company - while it potentially expands a cable companies base, it also does so for their other competing cable companies. It would result in a race to the cheapest prices, and that's not something they want. It's just my theory, but it explains why we haven't seen service that seems like an otherwise obvious service offering.

      Personally, I wish there would be some type of regulation that would force cable companies to compete with each other, much in the same way electric companies now have to in some markets.
  • Who knew?

    Aren't there plenty of TVs sold with built-in digital tuner specifically for this purpose? I had no idea they considered this illegal! Are the cable companies going after Samsung also?
    Paul Cowan
    • sharing cable?

      I am guessing that this article is referring to people that may share their cable connection with a neighbor, or that have multiple TVs connected when they are only paying for one TV. I don't see how else people would be stealing cable without climbing telephone poles, and running cables. They would like to require that a cable box is needed for every TV that is connected, and require an additional charge for each of those cable boxes as well, I'm sure.
  • C O M C A S T

    This whole encryption thing is really excessive and it is only really being pushed by Comcast. The FCC should either mandate CableCARD slots in all new televisions or cut this garbage out.
  • I think everyone (so far) has a wrong view of the goal.

    It isn't to stop the non-use of the set top box.

    It is to stop the illegal tapping of the signal by non-subscribers.
    • Illegal tapping?

      Are you talking about people climbing telephone poles and connecting to the junction boxes? I wouldn't think that was done very widely.
      • Illegal Tapping

        I believe the reason is so that when a subscriber moves and stops the service the cable company would not have to disconnect at the box and then reconnect when a new subscriber moves in. The cable company probably neglects to disconnect and then is horrified to see that the new tenant doesn't subscribe when they discover that they have basic service already. By being able to remotely "disconnect" the lines they would prevent service "stealing".
      • Think apartment buildings...

        ... instead of houses.
  • The problem (I think)...

    The problem isn't that people are climbing pols to get cable or sharing with neighbors, its that some people are getting cable subscriptions, when they offer a discount, and then cancel when the discount is over. Then connection is still there and people use it to watch the unencrypted basic channels. If this goes through, I think that cable company's should be required to provide a vary low cost box, that unencrypts only the basic channels.
  • Here is a solution

    The FCC should pay the cable companies to allow everybody access to basic television because the FCC destroyed over the air broadcasting with the "digital transition." This was a racket since the beginning between the FCC and the cable companies. The manufacturers of the cable boxes seem to have their hand in the pie too!
    • Over the air is still possible...

      and FREE! All you have to do is put up an antenna and if you are too far from the transmitters, an amplifier to strengthen the signal. That's NOT encrypted.

      Why should the FCC pay cable companies (who paid and laid the cable infrastructure) for those few who are too lazy to pay for their 'entertainment'?