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Cable companies can now scramble all channels: The Real Deal

A major change could be coming to your TV and your cable bill. There are a handful of basic channels you’re able to get by plugging directly into the wall without a cable box, but a new FCC policy is making it possible for cable companies to take that opportunity away.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- A major change could be coming to your TV and your cable bill. There are a handful of basic channels you’re able to get by plugging directly into the wall without a cable box, but a new FCC policy is making it possible for cable companies to take that opportunity away.

The new policy allows big cable companies to block access to channels you can now get without a cable box. Meaning, you'll need a box or similar device to access those channels and possibly pay an additional fee.

But the news isn't all bad. The FCC's encouraging companies to develop new technology that will benefit viewers.

“I think what you’ll see is companies like Boxee and other companies in our space start to take those signals and really create some unique experiences around them and kind of push the entire industry forward in terms of what we think of as TV,” said Boxee.tv’s Andrew Kippen.

Boxee offers access to Internet TV sites, like Netflix and Hulu, as well as those channels that cable companies want to block. The FCC has made exceptions for small companies so products like Boxee's won’t be affected.

“Whether you're a big cable provider or you're a little start up that's based in New York like us, you'll have the opportunity and the emphasis to really innovate and accelerate based on new competition and some new opportunities that this ruling really opens up,” Kippen further explained.

Cable companies say blocking these channels will stop people from plugging into the wall directly and stealing cable access.

According to the president of the American Cable Association, "The FCC ruling will mean that cable operators can expect to see a reduction in theft of service, which should benefit paying consumers who are effectively shouldering the costs imposed by signal thieves."

No cable company has indicated their plan to require cable boxes yet. But when they do, the FCC will require companies to take certain consumer protection measures so no one suddenly loses access:
  • If you don't have a box now, and your company requires you to get one, you will get a box for two TVs free for two years.
  • If you're on Medicaid, you will get a box for two TVs free for five years.
  • And if you pay for premium service on one TV, but plug into the wall for another, you’ll get one box free for one year for the second TV.
NewsChannel 9 reached out to Time Warner Cable for comment. However, they would not speak to us regarding the policy change or give us any indication if they will be requiring cable boxes in the future. Verizon FiOS customers will not be affected because they already need box-top sets.
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