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Stupid FCC Proposal Would Kill Basic Cable, Thwart TV Innovation

Boxee chief Avner Ronen rips cable companies for begging government’s help to encrypt basic cable channels such that settop boxes would be required for every TV. FCC would be "perverse" to adopt rule-making.


Boxee Live TV: “It would be perverse if the FCC actively thwarted this and similar devices,” says Public Knowledge.

The cable companies are pathetic, and the FCC is too if it accepts a proposition from MSOs to encrypt basic cable channels.

Currently, cable companies must offer the most basic stations – usually broadcast channels – to its customers free of charge, without requiring a set-top box, i.e., without encrypting the signals in such a way that a proprietary box from the cable company is needed.

Now the cable companies (MSOs or MVPDs) are lobbying the government via an FCC proposed rule-making for permission to encrypt the signals and thereby eliminate free basic cable as we know it.

As digital-rights watchdog Public Knowledge notes, “A bunch of cable systems already have a waiver that allows them to encrypt the entire channel lineup, and all of them want the option.”

Of course they do. Cable companies collect $5 to $15 per month per box, which should not be required for basic channels if you have a TV with a tuner built in (they all do) or an external tuner like the new Boxee Live TV USB dongle.

The cable bullies justify their proposal on (among other things) environmental grounds: Currently, if a customer drops cable, the cable guy has to come out and disconnect the service, lest the customer continue to watch basic unencrypted channels free of charge.

Phooey on that.

Boxee chief Avner Ronen writes in a blog titled, "Cable Companies Want Government to Help Them Increase Your Bill & Limit Competition:"

Considering this ruling would also mean millions more set top boxes and cable cards are manufactured, distributed, and attached to electric outlets (chart at left), their argument doesn’t hold water. It’s akin to a cable executive taking a private jet to an FCC meeting, but insisting on having recycled toilet paper on-board to help save the environment.

Settop boxes suck energy (click to enlarge)
So tell me: How would cable companies and the FCC explain this impact on the environment? When millions of TVs go dark, consumers will need to pick up a box or schedule a delivery from the cable guy or have the new units shipped via gas-guzzling trucks.

I like what John Bergmayer of Public Knowledge has to say about the proposed rule-making and its impact on innovation: The Boxee device -- and similar products from El Gato, Silicon Dust and others -- represent “the kind of next-generation video device that's needed to push the TV industry forward.”

Bergmayer concludes, “It would be perverse if the FCC actively thwarted this and similar devices.”

But we’ll give Boxee the final word on the matter:

The FCC is in charge of regulating the monopolistic cable industry, ensuring consumers’ interests are being protected and fostering innovation and competition in the market. Avoiding the visibility of proposed legislation that dogged SOPA and PIPA, the cable companies are trying to sneak in an anti-consumer, anti-competitive policy change, telling the FCC that it is only a minor technical thingy and that only few consumers and companies would be affected.

Check out more PK insights on this issue, including comments on AllVid, the FCC proposal for enabling cable content to be available on a home’s IP network. Read: Let's Get the Future of TV Right

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Article Topics

News · Blogs · Boxee · Fcc · Cable · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Tuckertues  on  02/09  at  11:39 AM

Bravo to Avner for taking this strong public stand.  I would suggest that requiring the encryption of basic channels will only hasten a new wave of cable cutters.With this kind of action one would suspect that Noel Lee is running the cable companies now. 

I have only kept my cablevision service to watch my beloved NY Rangers which I may just have to get from the NHL streaming package.

Posted by M.A. Giorgio  on  02/09  at  03:06 PM

Great read! I cut off my cable months ago and have never been happier (or wealthier). Hulu and Netflix fill the bill and rabbit ears pull in my local channels. I certainly don’t miss Hillbilly Fishing, World’s Cutest Cats or another take on why the Titanic Sunk.

Posted by JohnL  on  02/09  at  04:30 PM

The ship has already sailed for many of us with cable.  Comcast has already shifted to an all digital encrypted system in most of its markets, which requires a small box for every TV.  The first 3 boxes are free (at least for now) and each additional box is $2/month.  So I guess they can say their basic cable is still free (but only up to 3 TV’s per household).  They do still have about 4 analog network channels left on our system, but they say they plan to eventually cut them out as well.  This caused a real mess for older Series 2 Tivo type DVR and VCR (yes, some customers still have them!) equipment.

I agree that besides the extra cost and hardware it means using more power and dealing with locked up or dead boxes from power/lightning surges and signal anomalies.  And that means more calls to the cable company for troubleshooting and repair/replacement.

What a mess.  Seems we are going backwards instead of forwards!

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  02/09  at  05:14 PM

Hey, M.A.! We were pretty much living without cable for the last couple of months and found Hulu Plus and Netflix really fit the bill ... thank you, Roku.

Problem is the cable news stations which we really need.

In new place, we won’t have antenna option.

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