Comcast, Boxee Hammer Out Crypto Deal


Comcast and Internet-video software developer Boxee have reached an agreement under which Comcast is developing an adapter that would let users of Boxee-based set-tops access encrypted cable programming, according to a joint filing by the companies with the FCC.

In a June 27 letter to the Federal Communications Commission, the companies said they have worked out "an initial and a long-term solution" for cable customers with IP-enabled clear QAM devices -- such as the Boxee Box from D-Link -- to access encrypted basic-tier channels, once the commission allows MSOs to engage in full-lineup encryption.

"Comcast and Boxee representatives expressed their belief that the initial and long-term solutions provide a strong foundation for a final order in the above-referenced proceeding by resolving issues raised by Boxee in the basic tier encryption rulemaking while also enabling cable operators to encrypt the basic service tier in their all-digital systems as quickly as possible," the companies said in the filing.

Asked for comment, Boxee CEO Avner Ronen said in an email to Multichannel News, "It has been good to work with Comcast and come up with a proposed solution that will address the concerns of both the cable companies and Boxee. The essence of the solution is that cable companies will be able to move forward with encryption and that consumers will be able continue and rely on devices such as the Boxee Box to access basic cable."

Comcast declined to comment beyond what was in the FCC filing.

Boxee previously had opposed the FCC's proposal to change rules barring cable operators from encrypting basic cable channels.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association responded that Boxee was "simply wrong" in asserting that the rule change would hurt consumer choice and limit competition. In a February interview, Ronen countered that the industry's argument that allowing basic-tier encryption would benefit consumers was bogus, since the traps MSOs use to block channels for nonsubscribers are located outside customer premises. "The whole 'waiting for the cable guy' argument is false," Ronen said.

The initial solution described by Comcast and Boxee involves the development of an HD transport adapter with an Ethernet connector, dubbed an "E-DTA," to let a third-party device access basic tier channels directly through an Ethernet input and to change channels remotely in the E-DTA via a DLNA protocol.

A long-term solution involves the creation of a licensing path for integrating the DTA technology into third-party devices. Such a device could access encrypted basic tier channels without the need for a cable operator-supplied DTA or set-top box, according to Comcast and Boxee.