[mythtv-users] ATTENTION: Want to help remove 5C FireWire encryption?

Yeechang Lee ylee at pobox.com
Wed Feb 7 05:02:15 UTC 2007

To my fellow American MythTV users:

Over the past few months I've been corresponding with James Snider
<jsnider at 1394ta.org>, executive director of the 1394 Trade Association
(1394 TA; <URL:http://www.1394ta.org/>). 1394 TA is an industry
organization that promotes the deployment of devices compatible with
IEEE 1394, better known as FireWire.

Naturally, 1394 TA would like to encourage consumers' use of the
FireWire ports now required on all US high-definition cable
boxes. However, those with the boxes are all aware of the
extremely-restrictive 5C encryption that prevents almost all of us
from actually using the ports with MythTV to record the channels we
pay good money to subscribe to.

Given that the Federal Communications Commission instituted the
FireWire mandate in the first place, the FCC is best positioned to
expand the mandate to prevent cable companies from using the
encryption. However, the FCC needs to see evidence that the encryption
is actually hurting consumers.

Let me now let Mr. Snider speak for himself:

    After many months of working on the problem with the 1394 port in
    the Set Top Box, it has become clear that the only way to make
    things move forward is to file complaints with the FCC.  I was on
    the phone a few days ago with the FCC to discuss this and they are
    on our side.  What they need is a few complaints to move things
    along.  The cable companies are telling the FCC that their
    customers never ask for 1394 so they have no incentive to provide
    a better solution.


    If I can get your name, address, and any tracking number they can
    give you, I will make sure the right people inside the FCC a aware
    of your complaint.


    Please feel free to forward the information to other interested
    parties.  If they will supply me with their name, address, and
    complaint tracking number, I will make sure their concerns reach
    sympathetic people inside the FCC.  Having a copy of the actual
    complaint is also very helpful.


    There are a number of commissioners and some high ranking people
    in their technical committees who are very keen for this
Mr. Snider asks that those who want to help do the following:

* Go to <URL:http://svartifoss2.fcc.gov/cib/fcc475.cfm>. Despite its
  appearance, form 475 is what is used to file the kind of set top
  box-related complaints relevant here. Disregard the fact that much
  of the form talks about telephone-related issues (I simply put in my
  own phone number wherever one was required).
* Step 2f is the most important part of the form. Go into as much
  detail as you can on why 5C FireWire encryption for TV settop boxes
  is a bad idea for society in general and for you and your family in
  particular. Be polite, considerate, accurate, and respectful. Bee
  shure 2 spel chek ur riting n gramar. IMPORTANT: Save a copy of what
  you write for Step 2f before submitting the form.
* After submitting, you will get a tracking number something like
  FORM475: XX-XXXXXXXXX. Write to jsnider at 1394ta.org with your name,
  address, the tracking number, and what you wrote in Step 2f.
* Keep your fingers crossed.

To help inspire your own original thoughts, here is what I wrote for
Step 2f:


I have cable modem and HDTV cable-TV service through RCN here in San
Francisco. RCN, fortunately, does not 5C-encode any channels over
FireWire. This means that I can record all the channels I subscribe
to, including premium high-definitino movie channels such as HBO, with
my MythTV computer and two Motorola 6200 cable boxes. (MythTV is free,
open-source software developed by a volunteer community with which
consumers can turn computers into TiVo-like devices. Please see
<URL:http://www.mythtv.org/> for more information.)

When I moved recently, I wanted to keep using MythTV. However,
unfortunately RCN is available in only a few apartment buildings near
downtown San Francisco (the area I work and live in). Comcast, the
principal cable-TV provider in San Francisco, is like most cable
companies in the US as it 5C-encrypts all subscribed non over-the-air
channels. This severely restricted the pool of potential housing I
could choose from. In other words, Comcast's action prevented me from
living where I wanted to live. At least I had a non 5C-using cable
provider as a possible option, however limited in geographical scope;
I am aware of numerous other users of MythTV (and similar projects)
around the US that do not have any choices at all and thus have no way
whatsoever of recording from the high-definition channels they
subscribe to.

I realize that cable companies are concerned about piracy. I can
assure them that I have no interest whatsoever in illicitly
redistributing my high-definition recordings to others. Even beyond
the illegality, HD recordings are enormous; anywhere from 10GB for the
typical premium movie-channel movie with lots of compression to up to
25GB for a lengthy classic film on HDNet Movies or an over-the-air
channel. (The longest, in my experience, was The Sound of Music on
NBC; four hours and 28GB.) These files would take *days* (at least 62
hours for The Sound of Music) to upload to others, even using
sophisticated peer-to-peer distribution methods like BitTorrent, and
even considering that the 1-megabit upload bandwidth RCN's fiber-based
network provides is pretty much state of the art for residential
broadband this side of Verizon FiOS. I, frankly, have much better
things to do with my Internet connection!

Thus, I respectfully petition the FCC that it expands its existing
mandate requiring cable companies to provide FireWire-equipped cable
boxes to a) also include satellite-TV settop boxes and b) guarantee
that all subscribed channels, regardless of category or visual
quality, will be available to customers without encryption. Step b)
can be accomplished by 1) requiring cable companies to remove all
encryption from FireWire ports and/or 2) mandating that the CableCARD
standard be made freely available to all comers (perhaps made into an
IEEE standard of its own) so that amateur developers of projects such
as MythTV can incorporate the specifications into their software
without paying exorbitant license fees and signing restrictive NDAs,
and that computer-peripheral manufacturers can manufacture expansion
cards that CableCARDs can plug into.

I am happy to provide further details on these issues as requested.


Yeechang Lee


Good luck, everyone.
Yeechang Lee <ylee at pobox.com> | +1 650 776 7763 | San Francisco CA US

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