I was wondering, is there anything we can do to encourage Comcast not to encrypt the expanded basic digital and HD channels? I'd like to ask Comcast: If my TV's analog tuner can tune it, why not let my TV's QAM tuner tune the HD channel?
I tried aking this at the "Ask Rick" page on the Comcast website, but got an off-topic answer from someone in his office:
... Digital Channels are compressed so they take up less room on our line up, allowing us to add more channels. One Analog Channel takes the same amount of space as ten digital channels and or three Hi Def channels. ...
They did not even understand the question. Is there anyone to write to who would?
I'm probably being naive, but I think not encrypting channels the expanded basic channels makes sense from a marketing perspective. For example, one thing many people like about cable over satellite is not having to have a box. (Any other ideas for why this would also be good for Comcast?)
The non-local HD channels aren't included in expanded basic, since it is essentially an analog tier (transitioning to digital for the previous analog channels). Comcast isn't likely to leave any digital channels in clear QAM which they are allowed by the FCC to encrypt. If and when the FCC gives them a waiver to use the internal encryption of the DTAs, I expect the expanded basic non-HD channels to revert to encrypted, also.
I guess getting rid of all analog channels would be one possible answer to my question for Comcast, "If my TV's analog tuner can tune it, why not let my TV's QAM tuner tune the HD channel?"
My question for the forum is really: "is there anything we can do to encourage Comcast not to encrypt the expanded basic digital and HD channels?" and does anyone know who at Comcast to write to about it? (The first level of customer support did not seem to understand the question.)
I take the perspective that Comcast at high levels is interested in providing the services that its customers want even when government agencies don't force it on them. I hope that if we can convince them that it makes business or marketing sense to provide the service this way, they will. It at least seems worth a try.
Comcast's business model requires that it be able to restrict access to channels to only those customers who subscribe to them. The simplest and most flexible way to do that is via encryption and digital boxes with remotely programmable decryption. It's possible that they could use line filters to accomplish this for the expanded basic channels, but it's labor intensive and I wouldn't anticipate their doing that unless the FCC denied their request for a decryption waiver for the DTAs. I wouldn't expect that they would ever do that for the non-local HD channels, since there is no requirement for it, and they can accomplish all the protection they need for those channels by using the digital cable boxes.
Yes, let's stipulate that as a public company, Comcast has a responsibility to consider its shareholder profits over customer satisfaction, and that it makes no sense to ask Comcast to do anything contrary to their business interests or business model. (Such requests are better addressed to consumer advocacy groups, regulatory agencies, members of congress, etc.)
I agree that analog is on the way out, and eventually all channels will be sent in digital. I believe that you are right that in absense of a corporate decision to the contrary, the default will be for all channels not required by regulatory mandate to be clear will be encrypted. What I am not convinced of is that this is based in the business model rather than just in inertia. When HD channels began to be available, it appeared that which ones (if any) were in the clear depended on where you live. At that time at least, the decision of to encrypt or not to encrypt was probably not based on a coherent business strategy. This may have changed (but I don't know, since, as I've said, I haven't talked to anyone at Comcast who knows the difference between digital and encrypted), but what I think is: The FCC told cable companies what channels it could not encrypt, and they defaulted to encrypting everything else.
In my area (IN), as I understand it, status quo is to use line filters for locals-only customers, no scrambling on analogue expanded basic channels, and encrypted digital for all non-local digital channels. It may be that they plan to use remote programming in the future to differentiate locals-only from expanded basic. Since a technician visit is rquired in new installations and they charge for upgrades/downgrades that require a home visit, the marginal cost of continuing to use line filters this way is the cost of the line filter ($2?). (Given how generous Comcast is with splitters and the like, I don't think this is a deal breaker.)
Just to be clear, I'm only talking about locals-only versus expanded basic. I understand that using line filters to differentiate all service options is complicated, and even if technically possible (and I kind of doubt it is), is not feasible for lots of reasons. So suscribers should never expect to see HBO in clear QAM even if HBO would allow it (which I doubt), and we'll never see the higher digital tiers (like digital classic) in clear QAM.
Currently, Comcast does not treat HD as a separate tier or a separate charge (at least in my area), just an "incremental equipment fee". It could be that Comcast has analyzed the regulations and the figures and has determined that they can make more on equipment fees than by charging for service. Given that the fee for the basic HD decoder (i.e., not the DVR) is relatively modest (at least in my area) or entirely absent if you have a cablecard device, I'm more inclined to think that their strategy is more like "we have more HD than satellite, and it's included free*!" If I'm wrong about that, then we will probably never see non-local HD in clear QAM.
I've made a lot of hypotheses, perhaps not the least being the one implicit in the qualifier "in my area", but it leads me to the conclusion that expanded basic HD in clear QAM is not hopeless.
We are at a cusp with the (Comcast) digital transition. I think that the confluence of OTA digital and encryption of all non-local channels will be a real game changer; it will negate cable's natural advantage over all the alternatives: Convenience.
Consider yourself lucky, Comcast wants money for HD locals in my area. Even though locals are already paid for and subscribed to they want to charge for the luxury of watching already paid for channels that are free over the air.
The sad thing is that the Clear QAM channels come in much clearer with my HD TV tuner than they do with the brand new digital box I got from Comcast. **bleep** to have to use the box when the TV tunes it in clearer and sharper. You would think otherwise but its not. If they encrypt them all, the quality of my service will actually go down. Blech.