If you have cable TV service, you probably have at least one set-top box in your house. On Monday, a federal rule change takes effect that could eventually force you to rent more cable boxes.
Right now, most cable systems don't scramble the "basic tier" service which includes local broadcast stations, public, government and education channels, as well as some non-premium programming. Buy basic service and you can plug the cable into a digital set that has a QAM tuner and see these unencrypted channels without a set-top box.
Cable companies want to scramble everything coming through their wire, including basic service. They say this will allow them to reduce theft - prevent people from watching programs they didn't pay for - and improve customer service.
Their plan is to keep every cable household connected to the network and then activate or terminate service remotely, rather than sending out the cable guy. They say this will improve efficiency - technicians can focus on more difficult installations - and reduce the need for customers to stay at home waiting for service.
The Federal Communications Commission had prohibited the encryption of basic cable since 1994. But in October, the commission voted to allow it, starting on Dec. 10.
"By permitting cable operators to join their competitors in encrypting the basic service tier, the Commission has adopted a sensible, pro-consumer approach that will reduce overall in-home service calls and accelerate cable operators' transition to all-digital networks," said Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) in a statement.
Should your cable company do that, you will need a set-top box on every TV in the house to watch any cable programming.
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