It was reported earlier this year on sites like The Verge that Comcast planned to begin encrypting its Limited Basic cable channels. This would make digital adapter boxes necessary for every TV in the home. It seems that Comcast is ready to push some markets toward that change soon — a bill I received tells me that, “On 10/29/13, Comcast will start encrypting Limited Basic service on your cable system.” That’s a little more than a month away.
The Comcast spin has been predictably positive, with the company stating that encryption will reduce the need for scheduled appointments, freeing up Comcast technicians for other house calls. But it’s hard to believe that Comcast isn’t doing this for selfish reasons. For starters, the company will no longer have to send a technician out to manually disconnect the lines of non-paying customers. And Comcast will also be able to limit the number of TVs that customers connect to its service, collecting per-TV fees for extra digital adapters that will now be necessary.
But the biggest benefit to Comcast might be the elimination of the free HD programming that its Limited Basic service currently provides. Thanks to QAM signals in Comcast’s cable feed, customers can connect their cable line right to their HDTV and use its built-in QAM tuner to watch local channels in HD.
Unfortunately, that free perk is set to disappear with Comcast’s move toward encryption. Viewing HD content after the company begins encrypting channels will require an HD digital adapter and an additional “HD Technology Fee” that the company also charges for customers who want access to HD programming.
According to a Comcast representative, HD digital adapters run customers $2.99 per month, while the HD Technology Fee tacks on an additional $10 monthly. The digital adapter fee is per TV, as well, so if you plan on connecting more than one television to your Comcast service, you’ll need to pay for multiple digital adapters. If you can bear standard definition on a TV or two, you’ll save a dollar — those boxes are $1.99 per month.
Due to an FCC mandate, Comcast is required to provide digital adapters free for two years, and that jumps to five years if you’re a Medicaid recipient. The same Comcast representative I spoke to told me that customers need to order adapters either 30 days before encryption or 120 days after in order to qualify for the free offer period. I was informed that only the standard digital adapters are available for free — HD adapters will still cost the same $2.99 per month (plus $10 for HD access).
QAM over Limited Basic was one of the best deals out there for those who simply wanted to watch network TV in HD. It’ll be interesting to see if these customers remain with Comcast after encryption or if they cut the cord and opt for content elsewhere.
UPDATE (9/30/2013): I spoke to Comcast’s Vice President of Public Relations, Bob Grove, who corrected a few inaccuracies provided by the representative I spoke to. The encryption does, in fact, affect those customers who utilize Comcast’s QAM signals instead of using Comcast equipment. Those QAM users can get up to two free digital adapters and these customers are not limited to standard definition adapters. HD adapters are also fair game and will not cost $2.99 but are instead free, just like the SD adapters. Also, there is no HD Technology fee for Limited Basic customers — that fee is only assessed on higher-tier cable packages.