10.18.2012 07:04 AM
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
FCC OKs encryption of cable TV basic tier


TheFCC adopted a Report and Order Oct. 10, 2012 that amends its rules to allow cable TV operators to encrypt their basic service tier in all-digital cable systems, provided they comply with measures to protect consumers.

The rule change will make it possible for cable operators to activate and deactivate cable TV service remotely, thus reducing the operator’s total truck rolls to provision service. The change also will make it more convenient for consumers by reducing the time subscribers have to wait for service calls, the agency said.

Subscribers to all-digital basic cable who currently view TV without a set-top box will need to accommodate the encryption. The Report and Order sets up protections for these consumers, giving them time to resolve the incompatibility issue. Digital encryption of the basic tier may also impact basic-tier consumers using third-party equipment that is not CableCARD-compatible, so the agency is requiring the six largest cable operators in the nation to comply with certain requirements intended to make sure they remain compatible with the third-party equipment.

The Report and Order requires cable operators choosing to encrypt their basic tier to offer affected subscribers for a limited time the equipment needed to decrypt the signal at no additional charge. Cable systems choosing to encrypt the basic tier must also notify subscribers about encryption and inform subscribers of the equipment offer.

To meet the needs of consumers using third-party non-CableCARD-compatible equipment to receive service, the FCC is requiring the six largest incumbent cable operators to offer equipment that is compatible with IP-enabled clear-QAM devices, the Report and Order said.

To protect subscribers, the Report and Order requires operators to offer basic-service-tier customers not using a set-top box or CableCARD the choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on up to two TV sets at no charge for two years from the day it begins encryption. It also requires operators to offer existing customers who subscribe to a level of service above “basic only” but also subscribe to the basic tier for a second set and access basic service without a set-top box or CableCARD the choice of either device on one TV without charge for a year from the date encryption begins.

Additionally, the Report and Order requires operators to offer customers on Medicaid who only subscribe to the basic tier and do not use a set-top box or CableCARD the consumer’s choice of decryption devices at no charge for five years from commencement of encryption.

“At long last, we provide cable operators with the freedom to encrypt their basic service tier offering,” said FCC commissioner Robert McDowell. “Encryption will allow cable operators to activate and deactivate cable service remotely to better serve their customers. This newly allowed ability will also prevent theft of service while evening the regulatory playing field with satellite providers that have not been subject to this rule.”

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