Time Warner: Let Cable Scramble Off-Air DTV


Time Warner Inc. is seeking federal approval to scramble off-air digital signals over its cable systems to protect the content of local TV stations from rampant Internet piracy.

Federal Communications Commission rules bar cable operators from encryption of broadcast signals carried on the basic tier. But Time Warner said in a Feb. 13 public filing that the chief rationale for the ban was inappropriate for off-air digital-broadcast content.

In the filing, Time Warner said the scrambling ban was adopted a decade ago to ensure that consumers who purchased cable-ready TV sets did not need to lease or purchase set-top boxes to view local TV signals on the basic tier.

Today, Time Warner said, cable consumers recognize that in order to obtain digital services, they require set-top boxes or cable-compatible digital TVs with decryption capabilities.

"Thus, unlike the analog context, digital-cable subscribers lack the expectation and ability to receive digital-cable services without some form of operator-supplied decryption capability -- even in circumstances where they purchase a `cable-ready' [DTV set] at retail," Time Warner said.

Time Warner's request came in connection with the FCC’s implementation of broadcast-flag rules, which are intended to ensure that broadcast content does not easily migrate to the Internet for bulk retransmission.