The cable companies want to force you to rent a set top box.

Today cable companies must deliver Must-Carry stations in a way that enables tuners like Boxee Live TV (and the ones in your TV set) to display broadcast television channels without any extra hardware. This is commonly referred to as “must-carry.” In September, 2007, new rules were adopted by the FCC to insure that all Cable Customers continue to receive Local TV stations after the analog broadcast cut-off date of June, 2009. I like this. What this basically means is that a cable company must carry these stations (if the stations, indeed, request it).

However, now the cable companies want the FCC to allow them to encrypt the broadcast channels and therefore force you to rent a set top box for each TV set you have in your house! Their excuse being that it would save the environment — because it would prevent a truck-roll in order to turn service off. This is not in order to save bandwidth or to convert over to digital by the deadline of June, 2009.

The real reason, of course, is three-fold:

  1. The cable companies can remotely shut off your television service
  2. You would have a set top box and therefore full access to expensive “On Demand” viewing and renting of TV shows and movies.
  3. You would have to rent this box from the cable company — since no company that currently makes them (Motorola, Scientific Atlanta, etc) sells to the public!

I don’t need extended channels in my bedroom — which by default are encrypted on most, if not all, cable providers. I watch one channel, the Fox affiliate, in the morning. In the evening I turn on my AppleTV…and therefore don’t need cable. I love the fact that my clear-QAM capable TV set allows me to receive my basic broadcast channels over cable without a set top box.

Allowing the broadcast channels to be encrypted would require me to have a set top box. This also prevents my TV set from operating in the same way. I, for instance, will not be able to set the TV set to wake me in the morning with my morning news. The TV set will display whatever the set top box was last showing — which, for instance, could be HBO if I was recording a movie the previous night. There are ways around this with most set top boxes (i.e.: setting a timer on the set top box as well as a timer on the TV set), however it is an extra step that is not welcome in my house.

I don’t currently have a set top box for several TV sets in my home. I don’t need, nor want, a set top box. They all have horrible interfaces. They all limit what I can do! They require yet another remote control. They also add to the electricity bill of my household. For the extended channels I cannot get with my QAM tuner built in to my television set(s), I have my TiVo HD. The TiVo HD has a CableCard which, for me — and the cable company, performs the same “turn off” feature the cable companies are whining about wanting. However this TiVo HD does not offer the “On Demand” they crave me to have — which allows me to buy and rent video from them. (If I had a TiVo Premiere then “On Demand” would be available over Comcast XFinity in certain of their markets.) Also, I have all LCD and Plasma TV Sets. I currently have only one TV Set attached to a set top style box…and that is a TiVo HD. The other TV sets are standing on their own…not requiring any other hardware — and thus being clean in their appearance. Have you seen the size of a set top box lately? Who wants that horribly designed piece of crap sitting next to your lovely TV set? Not to mention that Comcast XFinity continually raises the rent for both these set top boxes and even CableCards.

If the FCC allows the cable companies to encrypt broadcast channels, then they should also require the cable companies to get behind CableCard or AllVid and actively support and develop them — something for which they still have yet to do for CableCard devices as a whole. Also require them to stop renting set top boxes and instead subsidize third parties — like the cell phone companies do. You would get a much better product — for a lot less money in the long run. Look at your cable bill. Add up the device rentals for one month. Multiply that figure by the total number of months you have had cable. See what I mean?

Read More about how Boxee is going on the offensive: Boxee Goes on Offensive

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