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Comcast confirms: Yes, we’re encrypting basic cable now

Comcast (s CMCSK) customers, get ready for yet another TV transition: The cable provider has started to alert its customers in some markets that it is about to encrypt their basic cable signals, forcing them to order a digital adapter if they want to continue to receive basic programming through the service. Comcast is making adapters available for free in select markets, and the company even has a model that works with third-party set-top boxes — but some users could still be left in the dark.

Consumers who already use a Comcast-provided set-top box on all of their TV sets don’t have to worry, their service will continue to work as before. But if you have a TV in your den that’s hooked up to your cable outlet without a set-top box, then you’re going to have to get an adapter to keep it working.

Comcast is contacting consumers ahead of the transition, offering them up to two digital TV adapters for free for two years. These adapters are small boxes that come with their own remote control and are connected to a TV set with a coaxial (antenna) cable. Remember the converter boxes that consumers had to buy to receive over-the-air digital TV on old TV sets? It kind of works like that, except the sole purpose of this device is to descramble Comcast’s cable signals.

Comcast confirmed the move towards encrypted basic cable when contacted by GigaOM, and a spokesperson sent us the following statement via email:

“We are beginning to proactively notify customers in select markets that we will begin to encrypt limited basic channels as now permitted by last year’s FCC B1 Encryption Order. While the vast majority of our customers won’t be impacted because they already have digital equipment connected to their TVs, we understand this will be a change for a small number of customers and will be making it as convenient as possible for them to get the digital equipment they may need to continue watching limited basic channels.”

The company is also making a help page available online that goes into some of the details of the offering.

Cable companies have long lobbied for the right to encrypt basic cable channels, arguing that this will prevent cable theft and simplify remote management of their equipment. They succeeded last year when the FCC ruled that they could start to encrypt basic cable, as long as they provide consumers with some help during the transition.

The company also struck a separate agreement with Boxee to provide owners of the Boxee Cloud DVR with access to its encrypted basic feeds — and the new Boxee device also happens to be the first one that’s compatible with a new DLNA-based adapter that streams TV signals via an Ethernet connection.

However, Comcast’s adapters won’t work with Boxee’s old live TV dongle, which the company introduced a little over a year ago to bring live TV to the original Boxee Box. Also left in the dark are customers who use any other kind of digital TV adapter for their PC that are based on coaxial inputs, like the Elgato EyeTV. The last resort for many of these consumers may just be to invest in an antenna.

32 Responses to “Comcast confirms: Yes, we’re encrypting basic cable now”

  1. Comcast customer service has went straight to the toilet. The microsecond FIOS is available here I’m sending them and their crap XFinity packing…

  2. I am surprised with Avner and Boxee joining up with comcast! But will remain a loyal Boxee fan!

    As for the “toning” down of “Cord Cutting” – we in the “OTT” space all know the “”score”” and the massive impact we are having on the cable industry. I just hope it is not a “If you can’t beat em – join em” attitude ! Consumers are demanding choices, and deserve them!

    Joe Q. Bretz
    The Digital Development Group, Corp.

  3. It’s really quite simple. This is about money.

    We have one DTA in use for an old analog TV but all our other TVs are just using their own tuner and the picture is very good on those. The DTA is very sensitive and sometimes will just lose channels for a while.

    They will ultimately be making money both for DTAs and the comparatively poor picture from the DTAs will also push people to buying HD cable to get back to where they are now.

    The only reason we even have Comcast TV service is the inconvenience of putting up an antenna. If I have to put a crappy analog DTA on my good TVs (and ultimately pay for it) I’ll be motivated to get that done.

  4. Consumer

    My service has used these boxes for almost two years now and yes they do have service issues. I have two and they continue to lose their programming so they do not work. Using the automated signal generation on their web site to fix this problem does not work most of the time. To fix the problem I need to call the service line, stay on hold for about 30 min to 1 hour before getting to a service rep. The service rep. then needs to generate a signal over the cable line to fix the problem. And for this great service I get to pay $4.00 extra each month for the use of the boxes.

    GREAT IDEA FCC stick it to the customers and big business wins again.

  5. jaynothsa

    Sounds to me like they are getting their 80s business model back in play, where you were charged for every set the you had connected in the house. This really isn’t surprising, but still irritating. The digital transition had a clause for dropping analog altogether, so long as all of their content was digital. Sounds like this suits their needs better. I’m sure Time Warner and the others won’t be far behind. Like others have pointed out, this is the last dash of desperation to hang on to their dying business model.

  6. Kai Chao

    What’s the point of having a digital cable tuner in your TV if you can watch anything anyway because they are encrypting everything? If this happens in my market, I will cancel cable and just get my local channel over the air in HD.

  7. I cut cable TV out of my life 4 years ago. I don’t miss it at all, I just use comcast for internet, and I netflix for movies and TV. There’s more than enough content on there for me, sure it’s not always the latest, but I don’t care.

  8. Keep it up cable! You’re at least helping the industry move toward obsolescence, so that you are nothing but dumb pipes and it is a good thing to see!

    Your value added proposition dwindles daily and it will great to see the day consumers break your back! Long live the customer is always right!

  9. Robb Chadwick

    This is about Comcast forcing you to do things the way they want. Although I subscribe to their internet service, I WOULD WATCH paint dry before I let them dictate the way I watch television. I cut the cord years ago; and I have never regretted it.

  10. Comcast in Indianapolis did this over a year ago, making our Tivo worthless, and our three tv’s in the house needing another power hungry cable box to make them work. Every since we have cut the cord and life really has been better.

  11. CommuniGate Systems

    Compare the costs of TV + Internet in the USA t other countries and you might be shocked. In most all of the EU, even the East like Bulgaria, Hungary etc. the average is around 35€

  12. Brian Ward

    I cut the cord a couple of years ago. Major sporting events are the only thing missing, and those can be seen at a bar if I reaaaaally want to see them.

  13. To say that they are encrypting is misleading. Are you confusing digital with encryption?

    They are going pure digital and dropping analog to free up bandwidth.

    A FREE box is required to convert the digital signal back into analog for your television. Whether the digitial signal is encrypted or not doesn’t matter. You need a FREE box.

  14. This is all about Comcast forcing their boxes in front of your TV for additional revenue and control. You must use their boxes and pay additional for more TVs, HD, and DVR. It also wipes out the DVR competitors as they cannot control the cable box. Comcast and other cable companies continue to make it worse for the consumer so they can hold on to their cash cow cable subscriptions. Roku, apple tv, google tv, youtube, amazon, hulu, and netflix will soon wipe out this mode of watching tv and the awful monopoly these cable companies and networks have enjoyed. Expect a good fight from them at the consumer expense.

    • Koen van der Pasch

      Since most TVs now are digital, you wouldn’t need a box to convert from digital to analog; your TV is that box.

      In this case, however, they are going to encrypt the digital signal which means you need a box to decrypt it before you even get a digital signal.

      • lordy

        you know, the fcc should not allow comcast (or any cable company) to encrypt basic services. their worry about stealing cable is not justified. it’s all about comcast gaining control and monopolizing your entertainment unit.

  15. Interceptor

    Another money grab by the cable co. Standard def? Please! Get an antennae and a Roku or box of your choice and cut the cable out of the equation. The only thing you need them for anymore is internet.

  16. dh labs

    they are burdening the consumer by forcing them to pay for additional power used by these DTAs 24×7 at 10 watts each when they’ve already paid for the clear QAM tuners built into millions of TVs. years ago, i read there were 30 million DTAs to be deployed. i’m sure there’s more. 300+ million watts of power wasted. thanks comcast.

    • cablguy

      You seem very concerned about carbon footprinting, maybe you should just do away with television and consumer electronics altogether. Imagine what a waste of wattage your microwave, stove/oven and water heater are, when you could use fire/solar. Bet you have at least 1 SUV too don’t you?
      Maybe you are right, Comcast should leave the services they provide to you in the clear and just pass on the additional cost associated with theft of services and the cost of all the “extra” work created when the network screeches to a halt due to the signal interference caused by theft of services.
      Yep, that would really give you something to complain about!

  17. They did this in my area (Northern Chicago Suburbs) a year or so ago. They do give you the boxes free, but you also end up paying $4.95 or something per month, per box.

  18. cmayr800

    This hasn’t happened yet where I live but I am expecting it. Problem that I hear is they take away your HD local channels. I plan on investing in a antenna when it happens.

  19. Yep, one of these was foisted on my in Minneapolis a couple months ago. Everyone should know that the free boxes they are offering are Standard Def ONLY. If you want to keep getting your local channels in HD, you’ll need to spring for an HD box or get them over the air with an antenna.

  20. I had one of these boxes when I lived in Peoria, IL where they have been encrypting the signal for over a year now. These boxes were inefficient and a problem I had consistently was that the boxes would black out and the entire process of reprogramming was time consuming and was required on a consistent basis. It took having 3 different technicians to come out before this problem was fixed when the last guy somehow recoded the signal properties coming into my house. Comcast customers should expect to be heavy handed and require a free tech install when converting boxes to ensure proper signal conversion.