Sound Advice: Cable viewers dislike new encryption

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2014 - 2:08 PM

Q: In what regions does Comcast have encryption and charge basic cable customers for HD channels?

A: I don’t know the entire nationwide situation. Comcast’s national PR team didn’t respond to a request about encryption. I did receive a recent update from Ray Skog of Blaine, the reader who originally wrote me about losing his high-def channels when Comcast encrypted his cable.

He said, “I got a call from Deb at Comcast today. Comcast will give us one year’s high-def channels for free. After one year, if we want to continue receiving the high-def channels, it will cost us another $10 per month. I told her, ‘Fine, but I still feel that we had high-def included in our basic rate before all this encrypting began.’ … I told Deb that I would spend the next year keeping an eye out for a good antenna. She said she would pass my feedback on to their marketing group.”

So, the FCC grants the cable companies a huge boon allowing them to encrypt basic cable, and in some regions Comcast uses encryption to take away high-def channels and then charges customers extra to get them back, either by charging a fee for the channels, the outlet or an HD DTA box. I call Skog’s experience “high-def hostage taking.” There also are reports of it happening in Boston, Seattle and possibly other places, because regions seem to differ and clear information is hard to come by. The entire situation is opaque, and this might be by design.

This was my impression, and Jessica Harper of Sun Thisweek recounted an Eagan City Council meeting where concerns about the adapters and fees were discussed:

“At the Tuesday meeting, City Council members grilled Comcast representatives about the changes and criticized the company for having a lack of transparency and poor communication with its customers.

“ ‘It feels like Comcast is very well versed with language when it is in front of our communications attorney or the FCC, but it is conveniently confusing when selling to its customers,’ Mayor Mike Maguire said.”

Such experiences are reflected in opinion polls nationwide. Besides bringing up the bottom of the JD Power ratings for cable and Internet, in 2010 readers of consumer watchdog website Consumerist voted Comcast “The Worst Company in America.” Comcast was voted the third-worst company in 2013.

I will be researching and reporting on Comcast and other cable companies about new instances of high-def hostage taking. It appears the new FCC regulations regarding basic cable encryption could be bad public policy and need to be repealed or amended so they don’t take basic cable subscribers back 15 years.

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