Cablevision Seeks To Encrypt Broadcast Basic Channels

Cablevision Systems has filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission seeking an exemption to the agency's rules prohibiting the encryption of basic broadcast channels, arguing that scrambling the full digital TV lineup would cut costs and deter signal theft.

According to the operator's filing, last year it performed more than 1 million truck rolls associated with physically activating or deactivating service using drops, steps it must take to prevent against unauthorized distribution because the programming is available "in the clear."

"Encryption of broadcast basic would allow Cablevision to keep its plant ‘hot,' to perform connections and disconnections remotely, and thereby eliminate many truck rolls and service appointments for new and discontinuing customers," Cablevision said.

Cablevision asked for a waiver covering its New York City franchise areas.

Granting the exemption will not only be good for Cablevision -- according to the operator, it would be good for the environment. A waiver to the crypto ban would "reduce costs, improve customer service, reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions," Cablevision said.

The FCC's ban on encrypting basic broadcast TV signals, adopted in 1994, is intended to allow programming to be viewed in the clear without the need for additional equipment. Cablevision, however, argued that with its high digital penetration rate "almost all customers will already have equipment necessary to view digital, and by extension encrypted, programming."

Furthermore, Cablevision asserted, "Today's cable subscribers typically do not have an expectation -- or the capability -- of receiving digital-cable services without a set-top box."

As of June 30, Cablevision had 2.902 million digital video customers, representing about 94% of its 3.093 million total video customers.

In March, Cablevision said that as of the end of 2009 will no longer sell an analog expanded basic tier, although existing analog customers and digital customers will continue to receive available analog simulcasts on TVs connected directly to cable.

Cablevision, in its filing, noted that the FCC has granted similar waivers to cable operators, particularly where connects and disconnects occur frequently or where there's a high rate of disconnects for non-payment.

Cablevision filed the petition Aug. 19, and it was posted online by the FCC on Thursday. It's available here.

The FCC's Media Bureau on Wednesday issued a notice requesting comments and oppositions to Cablevision's waiver request, which are due Oct. 22. Cablevision's reply is due Nov. 6. The proceeding is docket no. 09-168.