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The Aereo Decision and Bluebonnets

In case you haven’t heard, Aereo is a company that takes the over the air (OTA) signals from local TV stations reformats them and then sends them over the Internet to consumers.  The service is available now in eleven large U.S. cities for a subscription fee of $8 per month.  A subscriber can then see his or her local ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC or PBS shows on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.  While seemingly successful, Aereo may be violating copyright laws.  The TV networks have sued Aereo and now the case is in the Supreme Court for a decision.

Aereo says it is not breaking any laws as all it is doing is picking up the TV waves as a consumer would do but making the programs available in another form.  Aereo actually assigns each customer requesting a program his or her own rented antenna and receiver for the selected channel.  It then transcodes the OTA HDTV signal from MPEG2 to the more efficient MPEG4 and sends the program out over the Internet connection.  Oh, yes, it also records the program in a DVR server so the consumer can access it in the future if desired.

An earlier ruling in court said Aereo was ok but that decision is being questioned by the networks.  As you may know, the OTA networks get paid by the cable and satellite TV companies to carry their local broadcasts.  These rebroadcast fees generate millions of dollars in extra income each year.  The networks want similar fees from Aereo.

Aereo exists because many consumers want to see their local shows in some other format than a big screen TV set.  It is possible to put a TV receiver in a laptop or tablet but not so easy in a smartphone.  Single chip TV receivers exist but the big problem is the antenna.  Antennas for channels 2 to 51 are large.  For channel 2, a half wave dipole is about 9 feet long, a quarter wave half that.  While a smaller antenna can work it is less effective.  Think rabbit ears.  Aereo gets by with thousands of dime-sized antennas and high gain receivers.  Some companies have made small external receivers for connection to a laptop or cell phone but they have not been popular because of the extra bulk, battery and antenna.  It is more convenient from Aereo through a nearby Wi-Fi connection.

OTA-only TV reception is used by about 19% of the U.S. population and that percentage seems to be increasing even as more over-the-top (OTT) TV services like Netflix, Hulu and others grow in popularity.  Many dropped their pay TV services because of cost.  Yet, the broadcasters have not provided for the growing number consumers who want to watch TV on their portable devices.  Aereo identified this niche and is serving it with an innovative service.  Are they breaking the law or not?

As of this week, the Supreme Court heard the arguments but seemed disinclined to side with either party.  A final decision will be made by June.

Spring time in Texas is bluebonnet season.  Each April and May, the bluebonnets and lots of other colorful wildflowers beautify the fields and road sides.  This year the bluebonnets and wild flowers have gone wild with an amazing display of color.  The bluebonnets are a deep blue, almost purple, with white dots and a field of them is a breathtaking sight.  Add to that the Indian paint brushes, Indian blankets, pink buttercups and white rain lilies and you have a sight to behold.  I am not sure why I am mentioning this other than this crop seems extra spectacular this year.  Or maybe I am finally learning to smell the roses.

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