FCC cuts Boxee a little encryption slack (but not forever)

Oct 15, 2012
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FCC cuts Boxee a little encryption slack (but not forever)

Boxee is declaring victory in recent FCC decisions on cable encryption, though the loophole for third-party devices wanting to tune into free channels could involve some messy cabling. The set-top box company had joined with Comcast to protest against cable encryption proposals that could have blocked devices like the Boxee Box from getting a signal without owners paying a subscription, and while the FCC isn't entirely convinced by their collective arguments, it has thrown a temporary solution their way.

Boxee itself plays coy with the details, but the FCC's own summary spills some technical details. Cable companies will be obliged to notify users that their basic tier service will be encrypted and offer them a free adapter box: those with only basic service will get up to two of the boxes for two years (five years if they're on Medicaid), while those with an existing cable company supplied STB or DVR will get one of the boxes for a spare TV.

Those adapters will decrypt the basic service and allow the Boxee Box and other third-party systems to chew through the channels as they do now. However, it's not all gone Boxee's way. Subscribers will have to pay a monthly service fee outside of that two year period for the use of the adapters.

Meanwhile, there were calls to mandate the sort of FRAND-style (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) licensing obligations that 3G patent holders must follow to cable companies, but the FCC decided only to insist on "good faith" licensing and the requirement for clear DLNA (or other standard) labeling so that users and third-party manufacturers know what will work with which box.

Meanwhile, there's no end in sight for CableCARD either, with the FCC opting to stick with the technology despite some requests to replace it. The Commission points out that no company should have been branding its devices as "digital cable ready" unless they had CableCARD support, and argues that the proviso means there should be no confusion.


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