Rogers woos signal thieves (1 Viewer)

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Rogers woos signal thieves

By JACK KAPICA
Globe and Mail Update
http://www.globetechnology.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040421.gtdish0421/BNStory/Technology/
POSTED AT 3:56 PM EDT
Wednesday, Apr. 21, 2004​

Rogers Cable Inc. is gambling that people who were watching television from DirecTV without paying would be willing to become Rogers' paying customers.

The Toronto-based cable-TV company is following a move by U.S-based satellite-TV operator DirecTV, which is shutting down the data authorization stream to those who have used a hacked conditional access card to get their TV signal for free.

DirecTV is shutting down service activated by the so-called HU card, an older technology that was easy to hack, and replacing it with a new card, called the P4. Many Canadian customers in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, where Rogers serves about 3.2 million customers, bought the hacked cards, and now find themselves owners of satellite dishes and set-top boxes but with no signal.

The cards, satellite dishes and set-top boxes were being sold in Canada by independent dealers. Some claimed they hacked cards are legal.

Rogers is offering to pick up the "dead" satellite equipment and trade it for Rogers Digital Cable. In exchange, customers will receive free installation and two free digital boxes.

Rogers says it intends to serve these customers within 24 hours of their order.

That way, said Rogers spokeswoman Taanta Gupta, owners of black-market receivers will have three choices: to go dark; to become legitimate paying customers or to subscribe to another satellite-based TV service, such as Bell ExpressVU, but they will have to buy all new equipment.

But does Rogers expect people who have a track record of not paying for their signals to pay for a Rogers subscription?

"We're happy to see them come over to the good side," Ms. Gupta said. "It's better than sitting in the dark."

The move comes amid a flurry of activity from makers of equipment designed to deliver TV signals for free.

The newest is a black-market set-top box that allows free access to DISH Network and Bell ExpressVU signals that has alarmed both cable and direct-to-home companies as well.

The box, called the Blackbird, is being sold for about $500 (Cdn.) on eBay and by underground Web-based retailers, and is being called legal, even though it uses the same technology used by Bell ExpressVU, says Toronto-based Cablecaster magazine.

The Blackbird made its first appearance in late February, and gained a reputation as being able to decrypt programming encoded with the Nagravision standard as well as receiving unencrypted C-band, Ku-band and DBS-band signals.

It joins another similar free-to-air device called the Silverbullet and the Silverbullet Enforcer, a pricier box that automatically finds and uses encryption keys.

The Blackbird box makes about 1,200 channels offered by DISH Network, of Englewood, Colo., a division of EchoStar Communications Corp., and Toronto-based Bell ExpressVu free.

The Blackbird is unaffected by electronic signal anti-theft measures, and it comes with no conditional access card, such as the hacked HU card. Cable and DTH companies say it cannot be disabled by current satellite company technology.

The Blackbird box does not work with DirecTV or Star Choice.

One vendor on eBay, citing his name as "yourbuddybrown" and his location only as "southwestern Ontario," advertised the box as "the best [free-to-air] receiver in North America. Fully MPEG2 & DVB compatible. ... [It] also receives other satellite channels, no card needed!"

The highest bid, with less than an hour to go, stood at $360 (U.S.)

The Blackbird is usually sold with a 38-page guide, and has both composite and S-video outputs as well as a satellite antenna input, coaxial pass-through and capacity for software updates. The manual does not mention the ability to handle the Nagravision encryption.

According to an anonymous review on the Web, the Blackbird is programmed with the frequencies of many North American satellites. But the ExpressVu listing was the most accurate and up to date, while some others were out of date. "It was quickly clear that this receiver was aimed at ExpressVu, not DISH," the anonymous poster said.

The box under review suffered many glitches when scanning satellites for signals, identifying six TV signals as radio stations. The reviewer said that a number of stations could be received — including Animal Planet, HBO-East, TECH TV, FUSE, Court TV — but HBO-E remained unavailable. Hundreds of invalid radio stations "polluted the radio side with duplicate names of TP 2 TV channels and had to be deleted," the review said.

Since none of these problems occurred with ExpressVu, the reviewer concluded that the Blackbird is incompatible with the electronic program guide information from the DISH data stream.

Up to four dishes could be tied into the box, Cablecaster magazine said. With seven DISH Network and ExpressVu satellites to choose from, a signal thief could get about 1,200 channels on one television through this box.

Both Rogers Cable and Bell ExpressVU are aware of the Blackbird and are working on ways to fight it. Ottawa has proposed legislation called Bill 2, Bill C-2 passed, which will which is designed to impose tough measures against satellite signal thieves.

Industry Canada and Telesat recently conducted a test of the box in Ottawa and found that it appears bullet-proof and is a serious threat to satellite signal security, Cablecaster reported.

Cablecaster also said that the technology probably originated in Israel, and the hardware appears to be made in Taiwan.
 

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