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FCC Votes to Lift Ban On Digital Basic Tier Encryption

The FCC is said to be wrapping up its order
lifting the prohibition on digital basic-tier encryption.

were said to be working on statements at press time and the chairman was said
to be pushing to get the order out by end of the day. According to a
high-placed source, the vote will be 5-0, but with some concurrences.

chairman Julius Genachowski circulated an order in August allowing cable
operators to encrypt basic tiers that incorporated some accommodations for
IP-enabled devices -- like Boxee -- offered up by cable operators to help
secure passage of the item.

a July 25 letter to the FCC, in response to complaints by Boxee and others
about the inability of such devices to access programming on basic tiers once
they are encrypted, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association
(NCTA) said that it thought the concerns were misplaced, but that its six
largest members would make a three-year commitment to ensuring those devices
could receive a signal through one of two options, both pertaining to retail

to a source familiar with the order, it does include a three-year sunset on
that commitment, but allows the Media Bureau to extend it. That did not sit
well with the Republican members of the commission, according to an FCC source,
who thought that decision should have to be made at the commission lever. That
was said to be one of the reasons there will be partial concurrences rather
than unqualified yes votes. The other concern is over a severability clause
that means if a court strikes down any portion of the FCC decision, all of it
is invalidated and the ban would be back in force.

commission signaled last fall it wanted to remove the ban, which cable
operators had asked it to do.

FCC adopted the rule prohibiting cable operators from scrambling digital basic
tiers so that viewers with cable-ready sets would not have to buy or rent a
set-top box. Now, because of the cost savings to cable operators, the reduction
in pollution from fewer truck rolls, theft-of-service prevention, and the general
lack of complaints in markets where the agency had granted waivers -- most
prominently to Cablevision Systems in New York in 2010 -- the
chairman signaled it was time to lift the ban.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.