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Summary:

Boxee isn’t just marketing its live TV tuner as an alternative to cable; it is also fighting with cable companies about having access to their programming. The reason? Cable companies want to encrypt their basic cable tier, which Boxee and other CE makers oppose.

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Boxee’s live TV dongle has only been available for a few weeks, but the company is already embroiled in a fight with cable giants like Comcast and Time Warner Cable over it, and it is now getting support from groups like Public Knowledge and the Consumer Electronics Association.

At the core of the issue is whether cable companies should be allowed to encrypt their basic cable programming, something that existing regulation doesn’t allow. Unencrypted signals can be used by tuners built into most modern TV sets as well as equipment like Boxee’s live TV tuner to access these basic cable channels straight from the coax cable that comes out of your wall, without the need for any set-top box.

Cable companies have asked the FCC for waivers to these restrictions, arguing that encrypted channels would reduce piracy and that encrypted cable connections can be remotely serviced, eliminating the need for many service visits. The FCC is currently hearing all sides of the issue as it contemplates whether to do away with the restrictions and allow all cable companies to encrypt basic cable. Boxee has filed multiple letters with the commission and met with its staff last week.

On Wednesday, the startup wrote on its blog:

“[The cable companies’] real motivation is to prevent you from being able to connect the cable from the wall directly to your TV or Boxee Box. You will need to rent a set-top box from your cable provider, pay an extra $5–$15 per month and it will no longer work with your Boxee Box or similar devices. The cable companies are losing subscribers every quarter. If they want to reverse that trend they should look into building better products, reducing prices and improving customer service, not going to the government asking for rule changes to force consumers into spending more money and blocking start-ups from competing.”

Boxee’s position has been shared by Public Knowledge as well as the Consumer Electronics Association and consumer electronics manufacturers like Hauppauge, which makes the Boxee dongle. The cable companies, on the other hand, have been getting support from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) as well as some municipalities, including Miami.

Altogether, more than 80 documents have been filed with the FCC on the issue. Many of these filings from both sides make it clear that this is about not only what is going to happen to those basic cable channels but also the role that consumer electronics manufacturers, cable companies and startups like Boxee will play in the future of pay TV.

Consumer electronics makers have long favored a new standard called AllVid that would provide a new interface among traditional pay-TV services, online competition and connected devices. Cable companies opposed the standard; Boxee, on the other hand, came out in favor of AllVid in the presentation to the FCC last week, stating on one of its slides that “AllVid holds exciting potential for development of new consumer devices delivering integrated entertainment experiences.”

Check out our video review below to see how Boxee’s live TV tuner works:

Image courtesy of Flickr user familymwr

  1. Encrypting basic tiers – one small step for cable, one giant leap backwards for the consumer experience…

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    1. for the sake of energy savings, those useless STBs should be banned. comcast deployed 20+ million DTAs at 10 watts each even though there are millions of HDTVs with perfectly good QAM tuners.

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  2. If basic cable was encrypted that means a lot of people would stop watching TV? Viva la revolucion!

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  3. Just another reason not to buy cable. I don’t know anyone who has subscribed to cable TV in the last 5 years anyway. It’s mostly useless.

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  4. You don’t want the gate-keepers (TWC & Comcast along with the NCTA) to get their way on this… It will discourage-kill open TV platforms, second screen app’s etc. They will hide behind content protection and loss revenue opportunity, which is a fabrication. Cable companies have been killing innovation for years… as has many of their large competitors… Open and fair is what the community at large deserves…

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  5. At my work, we get a fiber connection from a smaller service provider that feeds 100 HD channels to any HD TV with no box. Cabler operators are just plain greedy.

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  6. It is about time we get some consumer protection on this issue. In our area analog tv is gone and we’re already on encrypted digital. Nothing works anymore the way it was designed: media center pc, dvr, dvd-ram, picture-in-picture, more than one device in a room, slingbox, … all obsolete or neutered because everything now needs a freaking Digital Cable Adapter.
    All Digital Cable Adapters are currently standard def.
    I have not been able to use an IR blaster with any of my additional hardware to interface with the dang boxes.
    THe last thing that still works in my house is Clear QAM.
    If the proposal is adopted we will be forced to pay for service per tv and device and forced to rent however many boxes or devices from the cable companies.
    I can support digital technology but it should have been something transparent that was already built-into all TVs and hardware that has been sold for the last 5 years or more, so there wouldn’t be a need for additional boxes … and no need for a fee per device.

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