Rich Warren: 'Airwaves belong to the people'
We begin with a provocative, edited email from a reader in Oregon:
"I came across your article that seemed more informed than the common knowledge as a couple of names I had not even heard of in passing, i.e. Roku.
"As a former military comm of the old school and sometime inventor I can understand that older tech would be considered sloppy tech, in that it needed wider space to keep interference of signal low.
"This is Oregon and we are somewhat independent and suspicious of big daddy!
"Of course tech costs, but you must be well aware of the preponderance of greed factor. Buy it all or none.
"Well, that does not bode well for the people (in more ways than one) though I am sure as the sun rises it will not be realized until it is used against the public (and they will).
"It is technically ethically already an abuse of power of citizens, the FCC for just one. The airwaves belong to the people and we see the circumvention of the people more each day. As in the military, one switch shuts it all off when you are bundled into one noncompetitive source. What say you?!"
This letter does not necessarily represent the views of this columnist or newspaper, but it raises some interesting points. I invite you to respond to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It provides the perfect lead-in to the recent Supreme Court arguments concerning Aereo.
This company, which started in New York City, now serves several cities around the U.S.
It offers to rent you an itsy-bitsy antenna positioned near TV transmitters for flawless reception.
You watch the signal from your antenna streamed to an Internet-connected device.
If Aereo serves 10,000 subscribers then it must deploy 10,000 antennas.
Obviously, it infuriates the cable companies, but also TV broadcasters.
Cable and broadcasters claim that the individual antenna rental is a subterfuge to "steal" the TV signals.
Cable companies pay broadcasters for supplying their signals to your home via cable while Aereo does not pay broadcasters.
Once upon a time, TV broadcasters did everything possible to increase the viewing audience so more eyes would watch the commercials.
When Community Antenna Television systems (CATV, the predecessor of cable) started, broadcasters begged to be carried.
Thanks to revised copyright laws, the situation evolved to nearly continuous warfare between broadcasters and cable about how much the cable company would compensate the broadcaster for carrying its supposedly "free" over-the-air signal. The cable (or satellite) company then charges you, with some markup, for allowing you to watch local broadcast stations via cable.
What is the difference between "renting" one of Aereo's tiny antennas versus buying a TV antenna and paying someone to install it? Why should a company relaying a "free" broadcast signal be required to pay a royalty to do so? Although Aereo won in several appeals courts, I suspect the Supreme Court will yank its plug.
On the airwaves. Meanwhile, why pay an exorbitant fee to subscribe to satellite radio unless you're a long-distance trucker? This email from another reader: "Because you reported that Sirius does not play over an FM radio in the home; I suggest Jazzradio.com, which plays as a cellphone app over a radio or audio player with iPhone pickup or audio input. I am playing jazzradio.com over an iPhone 4s that is out of service but still has Wi-Fi. The jazz tunes and the DJ are very good on jazzradio.com. The app is free. It has commercials that are not intrusive. A pay version with no commercials is available at $8/month."
There are scores of similar Internet music services. Listen at home via WiFi and on the road in recent vintage cars via smartphone or cell-enabled tablet relaying Internet music sources to your car sound system. Audio uses minimal data so it probably won't exceed the data cap of all but the most limited cell plans.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at email@example.com.