Comcast Begins Encrypting Basic Cable

Passive theft just got a lot harder

Comcast has decided to start encrypting its basic cable signal. If you have a cable box, this will mean absolutely nothing to you, but if you run the coaxial cable straight out of the wall into the back of the TV, you're going to have to get a digital converter from the cable provider. Or possibly start paying for cable. Hey, it's a better idea than the snitch line.

The cable provider's statement was expectedly brief. “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," Comcast said. "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.”

Comcast (and pretty much every other MSO) hates passive cable theft, and this is not the first step they've taken to combat it although it may be the the kindest and gentlest. In the D.C. metro area in 2005, it adopted perhaps the most consumer-hostile program ever undertaken by a cable company. Comcast threatened to prosecute people using descramblers or cable subscriptions left active by the previous tenant. "As these homes and businesses continue to be identified, the information will be turned over to the appropriate authorities for possible prosecution, with possible fines and jail time if convicted," the company said in a statement.

The Federal Communications Commission has finally given cable providers a less aggressive way to enforce its billing practices by last year authorizing MSOs that distribute an all-digital signal to encrypt that signal so that it requires special equipment to descramble. Given that a huge percentage of cable theft is passive, this should both cut down on the manpower required to check on potential freeloaders (it's expensive to send out trucks to every house that might be getting cable for free) and boost Comcast's bottom line—a serious concern as cable providers begin to lose subscribers to digital and over-the-top content services.

Publish date: April 15, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT