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ACA Seeks FCC Help to Encrypt Basic

The American Cable Association last week told the FCC that half of the respondents to an ACA poll said they would not encrypt basic service if it meant having to do so under the FCC's proposal.

In discussions with FCC officials last week, Ross Lieberman, ACA VP of government affairs, brought along a survey of 107 members that indicated half of the operators currently operating digital systems or planning to convert would not be able to afford to encrypt under the FCC's proposal.

ACA has argued in earlier filings that among the problems are the cost of boxes to smaller operators, who must provide free boxes to some households per FCC conditions.

The FCC last October proposed allowing cable ops to encrypt digital basic. It originally adopted the rule prohibiting cable operators from scrambling their digital basic tiers so viewers with cable-ready sets would not have to buy or rent a set-top, but has granted waivers, most notably to Cablevision in New York. Given that cable operators are moving to digital and citing the environmental-friendliness on cutting down on truck rolls by allowing activation and de-activation remotely, as well as making it easier to prevent theft of service, the FCC has proposed to allow encryption, but under certain conditions.

The FCC back in October conceded there was an issue with consumers with basic-only digital who accessed it without set-tops, or second or third sets without digital boxes that would now need new equipment to unscramble a signal. It proposed adopting the conditions it put on the waiver it gave Cablevision to encrypt its basic service in New York.

Those conditions include requiring cable operators to offer "current basic-only subscribers up to two set-top boxes or CableCARDs without charge for up to two years, (b) digital subscribers who have an additional television set currently receiving basic-only service one set-top box or CableCARD without charge for one year, and (c) current qualified low-income basic-only subscribers up to two set-top boxes or CableCARDs without charge for five years."  But it also asked whether this was adequate of whether the Cablevision time frames are appropriate.

ACA argues that smaller operators should be able to deploy the lowest-cost boxes possible, which would mean the integrated boxes -- combining security and surfing functions -- the FCC banned as a way to promote a retail market in set-tops. ACA says allowing those integrated boxes only for the purposes of satisfying FCC conditions would have minimal impact on the market for retail boxes.