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NPRM proposes allowing all-digital cable TV operators to encrypt basic tier

The FCC is considering letting cable TV operators with all-digital system to encrypt their basic service tier.

The agency adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Oct. 13 seeking comment on removing an existing prohibition on such encryption and has tentatively concluded that lifting the ban would not "substantially affect" compatibility between consumer electronics and the cable systems.

In the NPRM, the commission acknowledged that certain viewers feel the impact of the change, but that the number would be relatively small. The notice identifies viewers who subscribe to basic cable and have no STB and those who have a STB on a primary TV and have basic service on a second or third household TV as those who could be affected.

"Although we expect the number of subscribers in these situations to be relatively small, these consumers may be affected by lifting the encryption prohibition for all-digital cable systems," the NPRM said.

To remedy these potential problems, the commission has tentatively concluded that all-digital cable system operators choosing to encrypt their basic service tier will be subject to steps that protect such consumers for a limited time.

Cable operators stand to benefit from the rule change because it will allow them to enable and disable cable service remotely. In January 2010, Cablevision requested a waiver of the rule for its New York City systems, and a filing with the commission a year later by the company reported that basic service tier encryption reduced the number of truck rolls by 2763. The cable operator also predicted that 70 percent of its deactivations would eventually be done remotely.

At that time, the Media Bureau, which was petitioned for the waiver, reasoned that the company "sufficiently addressed" incompatibility problems by providing basic-only subscribers with STBs and CableCARDs at no charge "for significant periods of time."

The current NPRM "is informed" by what was learned from the first year of Cablevision's implementation under the waiver, the NPRM said.