Comcast just announced that it has completed its digital conversion in Washington and begun encrypting premium cable channels. That ends a complicated transition that began late last year and forced “expanded basic” customers to add conversion devices to all their TVs.
The company ended up giving out more than 1.5 million converter boxes to customers in Washington state.
As a few readers have pointed out recently, the encryption ends a brief free ride for some “limited basic” customers with QAM TV tuners who were receiving some unencrypted channels in the 30 to 70 range.
Spokesman Steve Kipp explained the closure of this loophole in an e-mail:
“Many of our programming contracts require that we protect our channels from unauthorized viewing. Comcast has always protected content through the use of physical traps for analog content and encryption for digital content on cable boxes. In Washington, there was a small window of time during our digital upgrade project in which customers with televisions with QAM tuners were able to view Expanded Basic digital channels without digital set-top box equipment. Encryption is a more reliable, secure method of protecting content and in compliance with our contractual and FCC requirements.”
Comcast is now encrypting channels in the 30 to 70 range (the numbers may have shifted but that was the previous range, before the digital conversion).
Still available unencrypted are the “limited basic” channels — 2 to 29 and 75 to 99, including C-Span and C-Span2.
By switching 30 to 70 from analog to digital, Comcast freed up bandwidth to offer new services and more high-definition channels, Kipp noted.
It also ended up encouraging some customers to upgrade to Comcast digital video recorders after the switch reduced the capabilities of equipment such as VCRs.