from the is-this-about-piracy-or-fighting-competition dept
Last month, an interesting fight broke out concerning the cable companies’ desire to block out competing set top boxes. The simplified version is that the cable companies asked the FCC for a waiver to allow them to encrypt basic cable signals — something they’re currently forbidden from doing. The cable companies insist they need to do this to “stop piracy” (of course). But, the reality is that this is an end run to lock people into specific cable company set top boxes (for which they hope to charge you) and away from newer, more innovative solutions. At the center of this fight has been Boxee, the maker of an innovative device for making your TV better, by letting you access and watch internet video via the device. It recently launched a new product that lets users add live local network TV to their Boxee — but that could be cut off if the waiver goes through, since those channels would then be encrypted.
Public Knowledge has been fighting the FCC on this for a while and has an action page to let you send a note to the FCC about your concerns with this policy change. From all the indications and scuttlebutt around DC, it seems clear that the FCC has been leaning towards approving this waiver, though realizing that it would kill off an innovative product like Boxee has taken the commissioners by surprise.
Of course, this just highlights the dangers of having politicians make declarations that impact technologies — especially when they appear to be wholly unfamiliar with the state of the art or the general trend lines of where the technology is heading. They make “simple” decisions without realizing the massive impact such decisions can have.
Boxee has ramped up its offensive against this effort by the cable companies, recently sending out an email urging supporters to voice their concerns with the FCC via the PK action page linked above:
Cable companies want to increase the cable bills of millions of Americans and to virtually eliminate competition from third party devices like Boxee. We want you to know because it will affect millions of people, non-Boxee and Boxee users alike, and we need your help to fight it.
For the past several months, Boxee has been forced into a legislative battle with cable companies. Right now, anyone can get basic tier cable. Attach your TV, computer, or Boxee Live TV tuner and everything just works. Cable companies want the federal government to end that, and to require every user to have ALL of their TVs attached to cable boxes. We’re concerned many users who have Live TV tuners and rely on basic cable will be hurt by this, but we’re also focused on how the issue goes far beyond Boxee.
Here are the effects of the rule:
1. It could more than DOUBLE the cost for the typical new basic cable subscriber.
2. If you have a TV that’s hooked up to cable without a box, you MUST rent a set top box for that TV.
3. If your computer’s TV tuner is connected to your cable connection without a box, it will no longer work unless it uses a CableCARD.
4. If you bought a DVR that does not include a CableCARD it will no longer work without an antenna. If you don’t get signal with the antenna, your DVR is now worthless.
It should come as no surprise, of course, that cable companies are seeking to limit consumer choice and better control the market, and even less surprise that they’re doing so by making “piracy” claims (next it’ll be “for the children!”) but that’s no reason that the FCC has to simply roll over and break innovative devices and services like Boxee’s.