Cable Ops Push FCC for Tier 1 Encryption


Top cable operators are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to approve its proposed sunsetting of the prohibition on encrypting basic digital service.

Both the FCC and cable operators agree the change would be consumer- and eco-friendly since it would cut down on truck rolls, with installations and disconnects done remotely.

Among those signing the letter, essentially a Who's Who of National Cable & Telecommunications Association members: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision, Bright House and Charter.

In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, they cited Cablevision, which received a waiver from the commission in 2010 to encrypt basic digital service in New York and says it is now performing 99.5% of routine service disconnects remotely.

Encryption also helps prevent theft-of-service, they pointed out.

The FCC last October proposed allowing basic-tier encryption of digital, given that the world is going digital and citing the consumer-friendliness of remote service and the cable-friendliness of preventing theft of service.

They said the rule was pro-consumer -- Genachowski has emphasized that the FCC should be a consumer-focused, not industry-focused, agency -- and that the agency should approve it "as expeditiously as possible."

The MSOS said that since almost 100% of customers will have the requisite equipment, lifting the prohibition will be a "nonevent," but that further delay would not be consumer-friendly. "[E]ach day that passes without Commission action delays the significant benefits that will come from the Commission's proposed rule change."

In addition to emphasizing the consumer-friendliness, the operators also hit on another FCC sweet spot: faster broadband.
"Cable operators will have even more incentives to migrate rapidly to all-digital networks," they wrote. "This frees up cable bandwidth for faster Internet, more high-definition channels, more video-on-demand choices, and other services that customers are demanding in today's competitive marketplace."

The FCC originally adopted the rule prohibiting cable operators from scrambling their digital basic tiers so viewers with cable-ready sets would not have to buy or rent a set-top. It is still proposing that cable operators provide them.
"We tentatively conclude that allowing cable operators to encrypt the basic service tier in all-digital systems will not substantially affect compatibility between cable service and consumer electronics equipment for most subscribers," the commission said. The FCC has already granted several waivers -- most prominently to Cablevision -- and more are in the hopper.
The FCC conceded there was an issue with consumers with basic-only digital who accessed it without set-tops, or second or third sets without digital boxes that would now need new equipment to unscramble a signal. It proposed adopting the conditions it put on the waiver it gave Cablevision to encrypt its basic service in New York.
Those include requiring cable operators to offer "current basic-only subscribers up to two set-top boxes or CableCARDs without charge for up to two years, (b) digital subscribers who have an additional television set currently receiving basic-only service one set-top box or CableCARD without charge for one year, and (c) current qualified low-income basic-only subscribers up to two set-top boxes or CableCARDs without charge for five years." But it also asked whether this was adequate.