Comcast Descrambles Boxee Deal


Tiny Internet-video software startup Boxee
wrangled concessions out of cable giant Comcast to give
its users a way to access encrypted cable-TV programming.

Comcast is developing an adapter that would let users of
Boxee-based set-tops access its cable programming once
the Federal Communications Commission allows
cable operators to engage in full-lineup encryption,
according to a joint filing by the
companies with the FCC.

In a June 27 letter to the FCC, the companies
said they have worked out “an
initial and a long-term solution” for cable
customers with Internet Protocol-enabled
“clear QAM” devices — such as the
Boxee Box from D-Link — to access encrypted
basic-tier channels.

The solutions will resolve “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.

Boxee has not disclosed how many people use its set-top
to access live TV. But according to cable-industry figures, not
many subscribers use such clear QAM devices: Less than 0.1%
of the customers affected by Cablevision Systems’ 2011 switch
in parts of New York to all-digital video requested a free settop
or CableCard to continue accessing encrypted channels.

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 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 thirdparty
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.