Last fall, the FCC issued an order allowing local cable companies to scramble or encrypt basic channels like the major broadcast networks and local TV stations. This means that every TV in your home will need to have a cable box, even if you have a brand new flat screen HDTV that currently is capable of displaying those stations in high definition without a box.
MrConsumer, for example, has small HDTVs in his office, kitchen, and guest room all of which just have the cable connected to them without a set-top box. And they all get a beautiful high definition picture thanks to the sets having a built-in QAM tuner. He doesn’t get cable channels like CNN on them, just local stations and the major broadcast networks. That’s fine, because these are secondary televisions.
Starting on April 10, 2013, however, according to a letter from MrConsumer’s cable company, RCN, they are going to encrypt these local and network stations. And MrConsumer’s HDTVs will become expensive paperweights.
FCC’s rules provide temporary relief, however.
All digital cable companies that wish to encyrpt their basic channels must:
“(i) offer to existing subscribers who subscribe only to the basic service tier and do not use a set-top box or CableCARD, the subscriber’s choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on up to two television sets without charge for two years from the date of encryption; (ii) offer existing subscribers who subscribe to a level of service above “basic only” but use an additional television set to access only the basic service tier without the use of a set-top box or CableCARD at the time of encryption, the subscriber’s choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on one television set without charge for one year from the date of encryption; ” -FCC MB Docket No. 11-169
Nowhere in the FCC order do they state what type of box must be provided free for one or two years to customers. And that is where cable companies can try to weasel out of providing a high definition box free to customers with high definition televisions.
Case in point is RCN, which buries in its FAQs this important detail.
“A customer subscribing to LIMITED Basic or higher level of service receiving RCN Limited Basic service on a secondary TV without RCN-supplied equipment is entitled to one standard definition box for one year.” [emphasis added]
A standard definition box by definition filters out the HD signal, so customers receiving those boxes will no longer be able to display a high definition picture on their HD sets.
MrConsumer contacted RCN and asked for and received a promise to be given an HD box free for one year. And, a subsequent discussion with an RCN executive also revealed that the company would in fact provide either a free SD (standard defintion) box or HD box to all customers. You just need to know to ask since their website does not disclose this option.
For other cable company customers, your turn to do deal with the problem is coming soon. You could be faced with receiving only an SD box for your HDTV, or having to rent an HD box for about $10 a month forever for every HDTV you own.
Of course, there is always the option of going back to rabbit ears.