Shaw Cable Blocks IEEE1394 (Firewire) on Set-top Cable Boxes (Again)…
***UPDATE*** We’ve contact Novus to determine if they enable the 0x02 flag. Here’s their response:
Customer Care / Technical Support Specialist
We’ll be switching to Novus’ fiber optic offering today.
A year and a half ago, Canada’s Shaw Cable began encrypting channels with the “0x02” flag. This flag has the effect of making the IEEE1394 (firewire) output useless to customers who use third party PVRs (such as the excellent MythTV, for example). After complaints to the CRTC and Industry Canada about this practice, the encryption flag was dropped on most channels and the firewire connection again functioned.
Until last night, that is. Once again, Shaw Cable has implemented “0x02” encryption. No reason was given for the change, and an inquiry requesting an explanation received the response contained in the letter to below.
Unlike the US, Canada does not yet mandate that firewire ports must remain functional.
Herewith, a copy of our letter to the Minister of Industry (with copies to the Minister of Culture, the CRTC, and Shaw):
To: The Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry
Please see below for prior correspondence – this issue surrounds Shaw Cable’s implementation of “0x02” encryption on cable television signals, which renders IEEE1394 (aka “firewire”) ports useless on set-top cable boxes owned by Shaw’s customers. As of yesterday, this issue has once again appeared: Shaw is encrypting channels customers have paid for (including the CBC) from at least 3 – 60 (except (oddly) channels 36, 46 and 60). There are, no doubt more channels encrypted; I simply stopped checking at channel 60.
Here’s why this is an issue for Industry Canada (as previously outlined below): in order to use a PVR other than Shaw’s to record programs (and, specifically, HD programs), the IEEE1394 output is required. When Shaw remotely disables this function via 0x02 encryption, only Shaw’s proprietary PVRs can be used. This not only eliminates any competition and stifles innovation in the PVR market, in the process it creates a monopoly for Shaw’s PVR products.
There’s another issue here: disabling the functionality of something a customer owns is akin to a Shaw representative physically taking a hammer to the IEEE1394 output plug – it has an identical effect, in that in both instances, something a customer owns and has paid good money for has been functionally impaired by Shaw.
Lastly, it should not be incumbent upon Shaw to determine the particular connection a customer uses to view channels a customer has paid to enjoy – Shaw should be indifferent as to whether a customer chooses to use a coaxial cable, component cables, HDMI or IEEE1394. In the US, blocking the IEEE1394 output is not permitted – here’s the salient portion of the text of the FCC’s so-called “Plug and Play” Order of September 2003:
“(4) Cable operators shall:
(i) Effective April 1, 2004, upon request of a customer, replace any leased high definition set-top box, which does not include a functional IEEE 1394 interface, with one that includes a functional IEEE 1394 interface or upgrade the customer’s set-top box by download or other means to ensure that the IEEE 1394 interface is functional.”
The US legislators have keenly understood the need to keep the competitive landscape open for third party PVRs and other technological innovations.
As much as I’m philosophically opposed to regulatory interference in trade, I’m more strongly opposed to monopolistic trade practices, and that is what we have here.
I alerted Shaw to this issue and inquired as to why they have again implemented 0x02 encryption. Their response was:
“As per our previous emails, we do not provide any support for the use of the Firewire port on any of our digital tuners.
Jason (4211) / Shaw Technical Service Representative /Shaw Cablesystems G.P.”
This delightfully sidesteps the issue entirely: it is not “support” for firewire that’s necessary. Rather what the issue is about is not actively impairing firewire signals. There’s no “support” necessary – by default, the set-top boxes allow the signal to pass unimpeded through the firewire output. It is a feature customers (like me) specifically bought these units for.
Many thanks in advance for your help, and I look forward to hearing from you.