There are millions of homes and apartments around the country that have a TV connected to a cable but have no set-top box and no video service from their local cable provider. These TV viewers either moved into a home or apartment where the previous owner had cable and the wire was still lying around. Or they are getting their broadband Internet over cable. Either way, when you connect a cable directly to most modern TVs, you can get the broadcast channels in HD without a set top box. And in doing this, you are not breaking any laws. This is perfectly legal.
The technology behind this is called ClearQAM. QAM is a modulation scheme that allows the transmission of digital TV channels on an analog RF cable. Because of a number of rules and regulations, cable televesion companies are required to provide access to the broadcast channels in the clear – thus the name ClearQAM. This whole thing is outlined pretty well in this Engadget post from a few years ago.
There are other ways to get the broadcast channels without a set-top box. You can put up an antenna and pull down them over the air for free. But for many locations, the cable is a better way to get the broadcast channels reliably.
Why am I telling all of you this? Because the cable industry is currently lobbying the FCC for a rulemaking that would allow them to encrypt QAM and shut down this whole bypass mechanism causing millions of TVs to go dark. And there aren’t many voices out there opposing this rulemaking request. Our portfolio company Boxee‘s is one of the few that has spoken out. Their presentation to the FCC on this matter is online and is worth a quick read.
Getting rid of QAM isn’t a bad idea in the long run. But encrypting the broadcast channels is not the best way to do that. Putting direct IP access to the broadcast channels on the cables is a much better approach.
It has always been the policy of our government that the broadcast channels are meant to be freely available over the air and by other means. There is no reason to change this policy now just because the cable companies want every home and apartment to have one of their set-top boxes and a paying subscription from them.
If you would like to reach out to the FCC and let them know what you think of this proposed rulemaking, you can do that here.