Media

Comcast says the free ride is over for basic cable — encryption is coming

Comcast

Years ago you could just connect a coaxial cable to your television for access to a ton of cable channels. But that possibility was eventually disabled after cable providers decided to start encrypting the bulk of those channels.

As of today, cable TV provider Comcast has decided to encrypt all the channels – even those that are freely broadcast to locals via an HD antenna (ABC, NBC, CBS, CW, Fox, PBS, and a few others depending on the area). Previously, you didn’t need an adapter box to get basic cable channels as long as you paid Comcast every month, but that’s all changing.

Now, anyone who has a subscription will need a box from the cable provider. Comcast’s announcement indicates that it’ll rent out the adapter boxes to customers for free on up to three devices ($0.50 per device after that) for two years — meaning it isn’t a huge increase to monthly bills as long as you pick up the devices in the next four months. That’s somewhat of a pain that I can’t imagine the “limited-basic cable” crowd will enjoy. This could also mean all venues with basic cable will have to “upgrade,” which could lead to them yanking service entirely.

The perks of the change is that all customers will now have access to Comcast’s channel guide as well as a nominal amount of on-demand programming, which I’m guessing is mostly movie and TV rentals that get tacked onto your monthly bill.

Comcast was granted access to encrypt those basic channels last year after the company successfully convinced the FCC that it would cut down on theft of the service from people who weren’t actually paying anything. I can’t help but wonder if this is also in part due to the growing threat of Aereo, which threatens to replace the cable providers altogether for those who’ve already cut the cord in favor of Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming video services.

I can see how Comcast could easily entice limited-basic cable subscribers to stick with Comcast over Aereo by providing some of Aereo’s services, such as on-demand programming, DVR functionality, and the ability to watch broadcast content from anywhere via Internet-connected mobile devices.

Photo via cmorran123/Flickr