Basic cable tier encryption allowed starting today

A rule enabling cable TV companies to encrypt their basic service tiers of programming goes into effect today, though it is not entirely clear how quickly service providers will jump to take advantage of the rule. The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously back in October to allow basic service encryption after years of debate about its value and how it might affect cable TV customers.

FCC 2012 commissioners

The FCC voted in October to allow basic service encryption. (Image source: FCC)

Encryption of basic cable has not been allowed since the mid-1990s, but the National Cable TV Association and some cable TV companies have argued that encrypting basic service would allow the industry to more effectively fight service theft and to attend to customer service needs in some situations without having to dispatch technicians to customer homes.

The ability to encrypt basic service could help the industry slow the billions of dollars it loses annually in instances of service theft, but there is also a downside for some loyal bill-paying customers. For example, if a customer household currently has cable TV service in three different rooms, with set-top boxes in two of those rooms and just a basic tier connection in the third room, the customer may now have to lease or buy another box to continue receiving service in that third room.

For this reason, some small cable TV companies have been against a revival of basic tier encryption, with the belief that it could affect the competitiveness of their overall pricing.

Still, just because the new rule takes effect today does not mean the industry will see wide levels of encryption occur overnight. None of the largest cable TV companies has made a formal announcement saying if or when they will begin encrypting basic service.

For more:
- see this NBC News post

Related articles:
The FCC voted in October to allow encryption
Small cable TV firms have opposed encryption