Sound Advice: Explaining Comcast cable encryption

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Question: What's up with the Comcast cable encryption you are writing about? Wasn't cable always encrypted?


Castle Shannon

Answer: Not all cable channels were encrypted.

Unencrypted basic cable is (or should I say, was) a beautiful thing for the consumer. Until recently the FCC required cable companies to retransmit over-the-air local channels (including high definition channels) without encryption, which meant Limited Basic subscribers could just connect the cable from the wall to an HDTV without a cable box or digital adapter (DTA).

The TV's remote changed channels and volume, and you could make high-quality recordings with digital recorders containing a QAM tuner. Subscribers with expensive packages could use the unencrypted cable in places where there is only occasional viewing to watch local TV without paying for an additional box.

After lobbying from the cable companies, the FCC changed the regulations so they can now encrypt these channels. There are four large benefits to the cable companies: a reduction of piracy, a limit to the number of televisions that can be connected without charge, a new potential revenue stream from equipment rentals and now it is no longer necessary to send out trucks for service disconnections and reconnections due to nonpayment.

I am sorting through a lot of information regarding the pricing of the standard definition (SD) DTAs and HD DTAs. The situation varies greatly nationwide. Comcast, DirecTV, Dish and Verizon FIOS charge for equipment and all are entitled to make a profit for their services. The issue is using encryption to take away HD channels people once had and then charging them to get them back.

HDTV technology isn't new. The first HDTV broadcast was in 1998, which makes it about 15 years old. Remember the ubiquitous AOL CDs for dial-up Internet? How long has it been since you saw one of those? That's the time frame. People are junking their tube-type analog TVs at such a rate that Goodwill won't even accept them as donations anymore. There is even Ultra HD 4K now!

Sending customers the SD DTA as the default would be funny if it were not so tragic. Everyone with a flat-screen TV who receives the SD adapter is going to end up with a crippled television. For everyone who writes me, how many others are out there (especially older people) who are just living with their crippled TV and regretfully accepting it?

With all the savings a company will realize from fewer service calls, and with additional revenue from equipment rentals, it could easily do the right thing and send everyone an HD DTA.

Making the HD DTA the universal adapter would do a lot to help Comcast's customer service image. According to at, it rates rate far below DirecTV, Dish and FIOS in every region nationwide.

Read product reviews by Don Lindich at

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