Boxee to Consumers: More Service Calls for You


should be applauded for their creativity.  For years, they have proudly touted their service as the ultimate answer for consumers who want to “cut the cord” and cancel their cable or satellite service.  We disagree with their premise, but it’s a free country.

But in recent weeks, Boxee seems to have changed its tune.  Instead of telling regulators that its service is a replacement for pay TV service, they now seem to be saying that their service is dependent on subscription TV and that regulators must… wait for it… dictate how cable service is delivered to its customers.

Yes, that is correct.  This cord-cutting, end-of-cable-as-we-know-it dynamo is demanding that the FCC not allow cable systems to scramble its basic service tier (typically limited to broadcast channels, local access and a few others).  Their position is all the more ironic given that all of cable’s competitors – from satellite to Netflix to Boxee itself – already encrypt the programming they send to their customers.  But in Boxee’s world, all video service providers can innovate and compete except cable, which must remain frozen in a 1990s time warp.

What’s in It for Consumers?

But wait, Boxee’s moxie doesn’t stop there.  Their CEO Avner Ronen took to the Boxee blog this week to make the incredible claim that encryption of the Basic Service Tier wouldn’t help consumers at all.  Maybe Mr. Ronen thinks that consumers like to take time off work so they can wait at home for service calls, but I don’t think most American consumers would agree with him.

The simple fact is that basic tier encryption would eliminate the need for many service calls. Customers would be allowed to connect and disconnect service without having to wait at home or take time off work.  Admittedly, fewer truck rolls also permit the cable systems to operate more efficiently and focus service calls on more difficult installations.  But to assert that sparing millions of consumers the need to be at home to activate or deactivate cable service isn’t a consumer benefit is either completely out of touch or intentionally misleading – or both.

Ronen also injected a patently false scare tactic – that the TVs which receive basic channels without a set-top box will “go dark.”  Ronen knows that the FCC has already proposed a solution that will ensure these customers will continue to receive the channels they subscribe to by getting free equipment from their operators.

The Bottom Line with Boxee

In the end, Boxee’s disinformation campaign is nothing more than an attempt to distract attention from the fact that there is a simple technical fix that Boxee refuses to implement.  If Boxee included a CableCARD slot in its device, its customers could access encrypted channels without a set-top box.  Rather, Boxee wants cable operators and their customers to foot the bill for a special fix just for them. And if it doesn’t get what it wants, then no cable customers should get the benefits of basic tier encryption.

It’s time for Boxee to stop dealing from the bottom of the deck and for regulators to recognize that when a “competitor” asks for government help to stop the innovation and enhancement of rival services, such claims belong in the recycle bin, not an FCC docket.