Sound Advice: Cable TV encryption creates a stir

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 3, 2014 - 1:35 PM

Q: What’s up with the Comcast cable encryption you have written about? Wasn’t cable always encrypted?

A: Not all cable channels were encrypted. Unencrypted basic cable was a beautiful thing for the consumer. Up until recently, the FCC required cable companies to retransmit over-the-air local channels (including high-­definition channels) without encryption, which meant limited-basic subscribers could just connect the cable from the wall to an HDTV without a cable box or DTA (digital adapter.) The TV’s remote changed channels and volume, and you could make high-quality recordings with digital recorders containing a QAM tuner. Subscribers with expensive packages could use the unencrypted cable in places where there is only occasional viewing to watch local TV without paying for an additional box.

After intense lobbying from the cable companies, the FCC changed the regulations so they can now encrypt these channels. There are four benefits to the cable companies. They include a reduction of piracy, a limit to the number of televisions that can be connected without charge and a new potential revenue stream from equipment rentals. Also, it is no longer necessary to send out trucks for service disconnections and reconnections due to nonpayment.

I’m sorting through a lot of information about the pricing of the standard definition (SD) DTAs and HD DTAs, and instances of Comcast charging people to get their HD channels back after losing them to encryption. The situation varies greatly nationwide. It’s important to note that DirecTV, Dish and Verizon FIOS also charge for equipment and that Comcast is entitled to make a profit. The issue is using encryption to take away HD channels people once had and then charging them to get them back.

Sending customers the SD DTA as the default now would be funny if it were not so tragic, especially since the Comcast HD DTA can be used with an old tube TV via the coaxial connection or a modern HDTV via the HDMI connection. Everyone with a flatscreen TV who receives the SD adapter is going to end up with a crippled television. Comcast is certainly aware of this. For everyone who writes to me, how many others (especially older people) are just living with their crippled TV and regretfully accepting it?

With all the savings Comcast will realize from fewer service calls, and with its additional revenue from new equipment rentals, it could easily do the right thing and send everyone the HD DTA.

Making the HD DTA the universal adapter also would do a lot to help Comcast’s customer service image. According to JD Power, it rates far below DirecTV, Dish and FIOS in every region nationwide.

Send questions to donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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