Last month Boxee released its Live TV dongle, which allows Boxee Box owners to integrate live television into their programming options. A recent proposal from the FCC could limit the device's functionality, however, and it has the company calling on its customers to speak out against what it calls an "anti-consumer, anti-competitive policy change." At issue is the encryption of basic cable channels. In 1994 the FCC mandated that cable operators transmit their basic tiers of programming unencrypted in order to increase accessibility. In today's world of digital television, that comes in the guise of Clear QAM; it's what allows you to plug the cable from your wall directly into your HDTV and watch unencrypted basic cable without a set-top box. It's also the way users of products like Live TV, eyeTV, and HDHomeRun can watch live programming without access to an over-the-air HD signal.
In what Boxee frames as the end result of cable industry lobbying, the FCC recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which suggests the mandate be dropped. The change would effectively require all US customers to own or rent a STB or CableCARD to watch any cable programming whatsoever. Proponents argue that reinstating encryption would allow cable operators to control subscriber access remotely, cutting down on service calls, and providing savings for customers while reducing the industry's environmental impact. The flipside is locking out new solutions from companies like Boxee, and forcing customers into a STB-only world — with STB fees — just when they are looking to expand their television options rather than limit them.
With both Motorola and Verizon recently discussing plans to turn the set-top box into a media gateway that can serve as the keystone for our daily video consumption, the industry is clearly banking on the devices as a vital part of its strategy moving forward. As for Boxee, last week it met with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to make its case against the proposed rule changes, and it suggests like-minded consumers do the same.