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Boxee/NCTA Tangle Over Cable Encryption

Boxee, the company behind the popular Internet streaming set-top box that now has an off-air and ClearQAM cable option warns Cable Companies Want Government to Help Them Increase Your Bill & Limit Competition.

Boxee says, "Amidst flat and declining cable TV subscription numbers, cable companies are lobbying the FCC to force every cable subscriber to rent cable boxes or cable cards even if they don't want or need them now." Boxee charges that cable companies are now asking the FCC to change rules to turn such access off, saying, "Their main excuse being that it will reduce the need for the cable guy to drive to your house to disconnect your cable and thus be better for the environment. Considering this ruling would also mean millions more set-top boxes and cable cards are manufactured, distributed, and attached to electric outlets, 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."

Todd Spangler in his Multichannel News article National Cable Television Association says Boxee is Wrong About Basic Cable Encryption quotes NCTA general counsel Neal Goldberg as saying "Contrary to Boxee's claims, the proposed rule change will result in substantial consumer benefits for tens of millions of cable customers. As Boxee well knows, its customers would be able to access encrypted cable channels if it included a CableCard slot in its device. Requiring operators to support one-off fixes for individual manufacturers like Boxee is completely contrary to the commission's basic objective in this area."

I covered the FCC's proposed rule changes in my article last October. As I noted then, this rule change could inconvenience cable viewers who have additional TV sets that are hooked up to cable but don't have a set-top box. Most TV sets, even small ones, support ClearQAM digital cable reception, but very few sets--even large ones, include the "CableCARD" socket necessary to allow reception of encrypted digital cable programming without a separate set-top box.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.