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Comcast to encrypt basic cable channels, require set-top box for all content

Zach Honig

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Well, this is quite a blow to basic cable viewers. Up until recently, Comcast has allowed subscribers to access certain channels without adding a set-top box for every TV -- instead, you'd simply connect your TV directly via coax (how quaint!). Now, certain customers have received word that their free ride will soon be coming to an end. The media giant will begin is expanding the area where it encrypts basic cable channels, requiring a single STB for each and every television that you plan to use. A Comcast Q&A document only addresses home users, so it's unclear whether enterprise subscribers would also be affected -- though that wouldn't be out of the question.

We think the move could mean a more complicated (and pricey) installation at hospitals, university dorms and even neighborhood gyms, where TVs installed in cardio equipment often plug directly into wall jacks, not to mention the inconvenience you'll be facing at home. This latest setback, of course, follows an FCC decision to allow companies to encrypt their basic cable channels -- the authorization was reportedly granted to cut back on service theft, among other concerns. Comcast will be issuing up to two adapters to each subscriber at no charge for up to two years, assuming you request your equipment within four months of the date of encryption. That's the good news, but encrypted content is quite a bummer, nonetheless.

Update: Comcast has already implemented encryption in certain areas -- this latest move simply represents a wider rollout. Additionally, Comcast-issued set-top boxes are not required when a CableCard solution is in use. Boxee TV owners can receive a new E-DTA that turns Comcast's encrypted cable channels into IP streams, as specified in an earlier agreement.

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