Cable is expensive these days. No matter how much you research and shop for deals, bundle your services and cut down to just the basics, cable is the one service that has increased in cost significantly more than any other service in recent years.
One way that consumers have discovered to cut down their cable cost is to simply share it. Families and friend groups alike simply exchange login information to gain access to one another’s services and expand the entertainment types available to them.
While this may strike you as a pretty magnanimous and cost-effective gesture, the fact is, your cable company strongly disagrees. And they know that you’re doing it, too.
Your cable service provider is not interested in losing capital through your sharing habits. As the trend of sharing cable services has hit its peak in popularity, cable service providers are cracking down.
When the Olympics come around, the cable guy has an awful way of making us feel like criminals.
It happens like this: You’re telling your buddy about Lindsey Vonn’s big downhill run, but he doesn’t have a way to watch. It’s possible to stream all this stuff through apps in 2018 — but he needs a password from a pay TV provider.
And then comes the digital dilemma. Can you give your log-in to your friend? What about your kid in college? The same issue returns around big Netflix releases and HBO when there’s a new season of “Game of Thrones.” Is that sharing … or stealing?
Good luck getting a straight answer from the fine print in your contract. So I had some extremely awkward conversations with cable and streaming companies, lawyers and industry insiders about what’s permitted — and what’s ethical. I came to the conclusion it’s often okay to share a log-in, so long as it’s limited to someone in your family or a close friend.
Cable providers measures to prevent you from sharing your service
There will be a few changes to the way that you login and access your cable service that are specifically designed to prevent you from sharing with others.
First, your provider will soon limit the number of devices that can be logged into your account, if they haven’t already. Whereas the policy on device numbers used to be somewhat lax, now there will be a specific figure — so if you’re logged in on your phone, your tablet and your TV, then that restricts the possibility that someone in another home could also log in to your service.
Almost all TV companies provide simultaneous streams to facilitate sharing. The sticking point is who’s allowed to participate. Some traditional cable companies say it’s for a single household only. What defines a household? Most don’t really say. A Comcast spokeswoman came closest by calling it “members of the family that share the same permanent residence,” but also clarified those people “may reside in different locations at times (such as a child in college).”
Cable providers will now require you to regularly login to your service, too. Whereas consumers were usually required to login to their cable services only once a year, you will now be prompted to enter your password multiple times and at random. That means that if you want to share your service, the people you share with will have to know your permanent passwords. That’s a risk that most consumers are not willing to take.
Adding to the confusion, app policies are often specific to the network, not the pay TV provider that gives you a log-in. NBC Universal, which is owned by Comcast, said its NBC Sports app with Olympics coverage should only be “used by the account holder and those in their primary residence.” HBO said a household could have up to three simultaneous streams that include a kid away at college.
Could sharing be illegal? Courts have applied a 1986 computer fraud and abuse law to forbid sharing passwords to databases and social media sites. But there’s confusion on the rationale behind those rulings, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others have called on Congress to clarify whether password sharing is a crime.
At least for now, companies seem focused on extreme abuses, like hundreds of streams at once. Comcast said a log-in it suspects is being used inappropriately “would not be cut off” — but the company might make contact or ask for a password reset.