In Last Ditch Plea, Aereo Turns to Congress

The online TV service wants its users to pressure Congress to reverse a Supreme Court ruling.

Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia (L) leaves the U.S. Supreme Court with unidentified family members after oral arguments April 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court heard arguments in a case against Aereo on the companys profiting from rebroadcasting network TVs programs obtained from public airwaves. 
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
July 1, 2014, 6:06 a.m.

Aereo lost its case at the Su­preme Court, but the on­line video ser­vice isn’t giv­ing up yet.

Aereo CEO Chet Kan­ojia wrote a let­ter to con­sumers Tues­day, ur­ging them to lobby their con­gres­sion­al rep­res­ent­at­ives to re­verse the Court’s de­cision.

“Today, I’m ask­ing you to raise your hands and make your voices heard,” Kan­ojia wrote.

“Tell your law­makers how dis­ap­poin­ted you are that the na­tion’s highest court is­sued a de­cision that could deny you the right to use the an­tenna of your choice to ac­cess live over-the-air broad­cast tele­vi­sion. Tell them your stor­ies of why hav­ing ac­cess to a cloud-based an­tenna is im­port­ant to you and your fam­il­ies.”

Con­gress could re­write the law to save Aereo, but the video start-up would face a steep climb on Cap­it­ol Hill, where many law­makers are skep­tic­al of the ser­vice. TV broad­casters, a lob­by­ing power­house, would fight tooth and nail to en­sure that the ser­vice stays dead.

Aereo used clusters of tiny an­ten­nas to de­liv­er loc­al TV chan­nels to its sub­scribers over the In­ter­net. Every­one has the right to ac­cess over-the-air TV chan­nels us­ing an an­tenna, and Aereo claimed its sub­scribers were just rent­ing ac­cess to an an­tenna.

But in a 6-3 de­cision, the Su­preme Court sided with the TV broad­casters, who claimed Aereo was steal­ing their con­tent. In the ma­jor­ity opin­ion, Justice Steph­en Brey­er wrote that Aereo was be­hav­ing like a cable pro­vider and should have to pay for the broad­cast TV con­tent.

Aereo up­dated its ad­vocacy web­site, Pro­tect­My­An­tenna.org, to al­low con­sumers to send tweets, emails, and Face­book mes­sages to their rep­res­ent­at­ives.

“Don’t let your voices be si­lenced,” Kan­ojia wrote. “Let’s stand to­geth­er for in­nov­a­tion, pro­gress, and tech­no­logy.”

Con­gress could change copy­right or tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions laws to cla­ri­fy that Aereo’s cloud-based an­ten­nas are leg­al.

After the Court’s rul­ing, sev­er­al law­makers is­sued state­ments say­ing the case shows that Con­gress must en­sure it keeps laws up to date with changes in tech­no­logy. But no law­maker has yet to ex­pli­citly call for Con­gress to step in to save Aereo.

“Giv­en the ever-in­creas­ing costs of pay tele­vi­sion, we must foster in­nov­at­ive on­line video ser­vices, which I be­lieve of­fer the best way to provide more con­sumer choice and to lower con­sumers’ bills,” Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jay Rock­e­feller said. “But those ser­vices should not vi­ol­ate our copy­right laws.”

The TV broad­casters had feared that an Aereo win could doom their whole in­dustry by elim­in­at­ing the roughly $3.3 bil­lion they pull in every year in pay­ments from cable TV pro­viders. If the Court had up­held Aereo, the cable pro­viders could have cut off those pay­ments either by en­ter­ing in­to agree­ments with Aereo or mim­ick­ing the com­pany’s tech­no­logy.

Den­nis Whar­ton, a spokes­man for the Na­tion­al As­soca­tion of Broad­casters, de­clined to com­ment on Aereo’s latest push for con­gres­sion­al ac­tion. 

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