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Aereo could change the nature of television delivery. But it must first face legal challenges from broadcasters, including a case before the US Supreme Court.

 

For those who might not have heard of it, Aereo is a relatively new TV service that receives terrestrial, over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts from local stations in certain cities and retransmits them over the Internet to subscribers via various devices, such as tablets, smartphones, Roku, Apple TV, and desktop browsers. It also provides a cloud-based DVR service that lets users record their favorite shows and play them online whenever they wish, all for a flat monthly fee ($8/month for 20 hours of recording time, $12/month for 40 hours).

 



Aereo is a slick idea, but will it pass legal muster?

 

As you might expect, the service has attracted the attention—and ire—of the major networks, which claim the startup is violating copyright laws and stealing their content by not paying retransmission fees. The 1st and 2nd Circuit Courts in Boston and New York City both upheld the company's right to do what it does, saying that it doesn't infringe on the networks' copyrights.

 

But in the most recent ruling by the 10th Circuit Court in Salt Lake City, the judge stated, "The plain language of the 1976 Copyright Act supports the plaintiffs' position. Aereo's retransmission of plaintiffs' copyrighted programs is indistinguishable from a cable company." As a result, the service had to shut down in Salt Lake City and Denver. It's still up and running in Boston, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and nine other so-called "markets," about half the number anticipated in phase one of the rollout. To see if your in one of Aereo's service markets, visit its website .

 

Meanwhile, Aereo just launched in Austin, TX, to coincide with the SXSW (South by Southwest) Festival, which started on March 7 and runs through March 16. In attendance is Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, who is taking the fight all the way to the US Supreme Court. He faces an uphill battle—the US Department of Justice has sided with the broadcasters in an amicus brief filed with the high court, which now has the case on its docket.

 



Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia holds a single user's antenna next to arrays of such antennas on large circuit boards.

 

The crux of the dispute is whether Aereo streams content over the Internet to customers (illegal) or provides its customers with access to the hardware that lets them stream the content to themselves (legal). Aereo works by assigning a tiny OTA antenna and DVR storage to each user, which supports the notion that each user has their own equipment. But as Peter Putman points out in an article for Display Central , the individual antennas are too small to have enough gain for high-band VHF and UHF reception, and they are spaced very close together, which means they behave as a larger antenna delivering TV channels to many people, not just one.

 

And that's not the end of Aereo's problems. During the Oscars and Golden Globes telecasts this year, users in New York experienced service interruptions, including inordinate buffering, incomplete recordings, and other glitches. Of course, any new technology is bound to have growing pains, but problems like that could drive users away in droves.

 

Other Aereo news from SXSW can be found in this story on Engadget.com , including a statement by Kanojia to Engadget that a Chromecast app should be released "in the next couple of weeks." He also told the tech site that he has no plans to sell the company, despite rumors to the contrary. Obviously, the Supreme Court decision will have a huge impact on any plans Kanojia has for the scrappy startup.

 

Do you subscribe to Aereo? If so, what has been your experience with it?

 

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Aereo is a good idea, but far from perfect.


Technically, the pictures aren't all that good, especially compared to OTA DTV signals. Watching a football game or any program with lots of action makes for blurry, pixelated images. Their DVR functions are OK, but they don't have apps for iOS, there's no skip functionality in browsers and Chromecast isn't supported. So, if you want to watch Aereo on a TV, you need a Roku (now maybe the Roku Stick makes that more likely).


Legally, they are skirting the law -- no doubt about it. But I suspect they will be allowed to continue in business by paying broadcasters for retransmission rights which in turn means an inevitable price increase.


I use Aereo as a backup for my OTA rig in case of bad weather or mutlipath distortion in a signal. But as a complete replacement? It's not there yet.


Oh, and don't bother emailing them for support. Their support folks specialize in vapid, chripy, content-free email.
 

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I live about 80 miles as the crow flies from the St Louis metro area. Where my house is located I could probably pick up OTA television signals from St Louis if I put up about a 80ft tall tower. This is not practical and a service like Aereo would be awesome in my situation where I could simply get the programming as a stream on my Roku. From my understanding the service is intended to be a solution for exactly the problem I'm having with reception. I'd be able to watch all of the affiliate stations and their advertising would be reaching me so I fail to see the logic of how this could be illegal. I hope they are successful in their legal battles.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveMcLain  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24467339


I'd be able to watch all of the affiliate stations and their advertising would be reaching me so I fail to see the logic of how this could be illegal. I hope they are successful in their legal battles.

This has been a hotly debated topic here since it first came out. The Aereo argument is that they have an individual antenna for each subscriber, and all they are doing is renting space for an individual's antenna and DVR. The broadcasters' argument is that while it is perfectly legal to have an antenna and DVR is a user's home, a company can't do it outside the home.


Copyright law has a distinction between "public" and "private" performances. It is illegal to re-transmit a public performance without permission, but you can do it for a private performance (like playing back a recorded show from your DCR). The courts will decide whether Aereo is private or public, and I am really curious how it turns out. I see both sides of the argument.
 

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It's an interesting idea but Aereo is sure to lose to the big money interests. They are not alone in this type of endeavor, Filmon.tv is another company trying the same thing.
 

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The battle is lost. The Supreme Court will rule against them. The broadcasting lobby is huge. Aereo has made it's millions. The pockets of the CEO are full. When the Supreme Court rules against them, they will fold and the owners will have made millions. It's a no lose situation.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by GotHDTV?  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24469179


CBS is threating to pull their network from Over The Air broadcasts if Aereo wins.


http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=OBR&date=20140311&id=17424222

I'm sure the local affiliates would sue CBS big time. The FCC would revoke those valuable bandwidth licenses of the locals if they were unable to broadcast anything. Most would fold if they did not have the network feeds to broadcast OTA.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by wxman  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24469011


The battle is lost. The Supreme Court will rule against them. The broadcasting lobby is huge. Aereo has made it's millions. The pockets of the CEO are full. When the Supreme Court rules against them, they will fold and the owners will have made millions. It's a no lose situation.
His pockets were full before this started, and he spent quiet a bit of it and other investors. I doubt that there is much return on that yet.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yobyot  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24465997


Legally, they are skirting the law -- no doubt about it. But I suspect they will be allowed to continue in business by paying broadcasters for retransmission rights which in turn means an inevitable price increase.
I think there's very big doubt about it. To me, what they're doing seems perfectly legal and in no way underhanded. It isn't a loophole. It's using the OTA signals exactly how they were meant to be used. Hear me out...


Like you, I set up my own OTA tuner and DVR. It works great for me. But I'm not the only one in my family that prefers to get my programming this way. My parents want the better picture and lower cost of OTA too. Unfortunately, they aren't as good at building a computer as I am. So what do they do? They call me for help. I end up building and installing their system, mostly from spare parts I had laying around. Occasionally, as these systems do, it has a hiccup. What happens then? They call me again. So effectively, I supplied the hardware for them to use, I maintain that hardware for them, and when they stop using it I'll get it all back. They aren't actually paying me for this service, because they're my parents and they've provided me plenty already. But let's say they were paying me. They pay me in return for letting them use my hardware and my time maintaining their system.


Is my helping my parents set this all up illegal? I sure don't think so. Is it in any way shady? It doesn't feel like it to me. Even if they pay me, so what? I'm not getting paid for the programming they choose to watch. No I'm getting paid for the hardware I loaned them and the time I spend setting it up and maintaining it. I'm getting paid for a service that they don't want to do themselves. It's no different than the guy they pay to cut their grass.
 

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The broadcasters need to get with the times. People are cutting the cord so if there is not a way to get the content via a streaming device then people will forego the content or pirate it. There are 3 types of consumes in this scenario, those what want to stream live and thus will be watching the commercials (the life blood of a tv station) and those that DVR it or wait and stream it on Netflix/Amazon, etc. The Netflix/Amazon crowd generates revenue back to the broadcaster in the fees the streaming service pays, the DVR user probably skip a bunch of commercials and thus the broadcaster gets some revenue from the re-transmission fees. A smart broadcaster would stream their content themselves trying to reach as much of the consumer base it can, if geography is an issue then make people register with phone/zip (of course that is not fool proof).
 

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So the only difference between this and Slingbox is the antenna and dvr are located at a business address not a home address?


I'll be glad when OTA crashes and burns. There is almost nothing left worth watching on it these days.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by pitviper33  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24472491


I think there's very big doubt about it. To me, what they're doing seems perfectly legal and in no way underhanded. It isn't a loophole. It's using the OTA signals exactly how they were meant to be used. Hear me out...


Like you, I set up my own OTA tuner and DVR. It works great for me. But I'm not the only one in my family that prefers to get my programming this way. My parents want the better picture and lower cost of OTA too. Unfortunately, they aren't as good at building a computer as I am. So what do they do? They call me for help. I end up building and installing their system, mostly from spare parts I had laying around. Occasionally, as these systems do, it has a hiccup. What happens then? They call me again. So effectively, I supplied the hardware for them to use, I maintain that hardware for them, and when they stop using it I'll get it all back. They aren't actually paying me for this service, because they're my parents and they've provided me plenty already. But let's say they were paying me. They pay me in return for letting them use my hardware and my time maintaining their system.


Is my helping my parents set this all up illegal? I sure don't think so. Is it in any way shady? It doesn't feel like it to me. Even if they pay me, so what? I'm not getting paid for the programming they choose to watch. No I'm getting paid for the hardware I loaned them and the time I spend setting it up and maintaining it. I'm getting paid for a service that they don't want to do themselves. It's no different than the guy they pay to cut their grass.
In your scenario, you are still only providing the hardware. You are not supplying the content.


Aereo is providing the content. You can't get it (live streaming content) any other way unless you buy a slingbox, hook up an antenna yourself and send it to your own device. The content you receive from the stations is ATSC MPEG2 video that can be decoded by any current TV or tuner box at no charge beyond the cost of the equipment, your ISP costs and the electricity.


Aereo is re-encoding the signal, transcoding and compressing it to MPEG4, encrypting it, then sending it out to people who pay. Once you stop paying, you get cut off. If they charged a one-time fee to "buy" the remote equipment and gave the service for free (kind an Ooma style of business), they might actually have a lock to the win. Since they charge a monthly fee that is as much as a service like Netflix (which legally buys millions of dollars of content each month), they can't credibly claim it's all maintenance costs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kluken  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24472811


The broadcasters need to get with the times. People are cutting the cord so if there is not a way to get the content via a streaming device then people will forego the content or pirate it. There are 3 types of consumes in this scenario, those what want to stream live and thus will be watching the commercials (the life blood of a tv station) and those that DVR it or wait and stream it on Netflix/Amazon, etc. The Netflix/Amazon crowd generates revenue back to the broadcaster in the fees the streaming service pays, the DVR user probably skip a bunch of commercials and thus the broadcaster gets some revenue from the re-transmission fees. A smart broadcaster would stream their content themselves trying to reach as much of the consumer base it can, if geography is an issue then make people register with phone/zip (of course that is not fool proof).
Except the broadcasters don't have the rights to stream all the shows they air. It would be a violation of their agreements with the content creators. If they had those rights, they likely would have already been doing something like this. Instead, they provide what they can via services like Hulu, their own sites and via On Demand through paid providers. With the rest, (usually shows that have been on for a while) the agreement was for OTA only.


Aereo is doing what the networks aren't legally allowed to do because they sidestepped getting permission. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to see the studios weigh in if things don't go well for the networks since Aereo is undercutting the fees they would normally get for streaming rights.


I'm especially surprised Comcast isn't weighing in, since they own a studio, provide a streaming app and have a vested interest in people having cable as opposed to paying someone else and using their pipes to stream it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by reconlabtech  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24473278


So the only difference between this and Slingbox is the antenna and dvr are located at a business address not a home address?.
No.


The difference is, you have the user collecting the content (legally, of course) and using fair use to view the content on their own devices using their own equipment.


With Aereo, they hare collecting the content on a mass scale, sending it out on mass scale (even if each individual stream is intended only for a single customer) via a closed circuit system that requires a fee to be paid to access it. That makes them an IP based cable operator.
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I'll be glad when OTA crashes and burns. There is almost nothing left worth watching on it these days.
You do realize that if OTA crashes and burns, so does Aereo, even if they win, right? They only have content if they can continue to utilize the loophole they claim they are allowed to.


Further, if there is almost nothing on via OTA channels, why would you ever want to pay for Aereo?
 

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Hard to say what they are doing specifically on their network... who knows... but from my point of view they are just renting me the hardware I would need to buy and keeping it in an optimal location.


Do they compress it and re-encode it, or does the DVR they rented me.



If I'm allowed to buy all the gear and do it for myself... how can they possibly be liable for being a hardware rental company.



It sounds like your saying they are storing this content on servers... then selling that content to me, which isn't what it sounds like from the limited info we have.
 

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Aereo collects only that content you tell them to collect on an antenna dedicated to you and stored on storage space dedicated to you to play in your own home. A cable company, IP based or other, pays providers for content that is packaged and delivered to you whether you want it or not.


Why would I want to pay for Aereo? I never said that I did. I was simply looking for a simple, objective view of the difference between Slingbox and Aereo.


OTA is a broadcast, unencrypted transmission that is paid for by advertisers. If Aereo stripped out the ads, I could see where there might be a problem but the ads are there so this seems to be an attempt to extract more money because there is a large pot of it available to claim is yours.


EDIT: In fact, let me be clearer - Aereo is paid simply to give you access to your own OTA antenna and record any captured signals from that antenna and store it in space you pay for so that you can stream that content to your own home or your own devices capable of receiving and decoding that stream. If you don't pay Aereo, you have no access to that antenna or storage space. They don't sell/rent you any content, just a private means to capture and view broadcast content.


As for re-encoding that captured signal - that's a strawman. Slingbox does the same thing.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fishtank  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24473857


Hard to say what they are doing specifically on their network... who knows... but from my point of view they are just renting me the hardware I would need to buy and keeping it in an optimal location.
Two problems with this:


1) The streaming media is created before it gets to you, meaning they are changing the content before you get it. You aren't using the content, they are. You are now only the consumer, not the user.


2) How do you explain that they charge as much as Netflix does with all the hundreds of millions they pay out to legally obtain content to stream? Plus they have infrastructure costs. There is no way Aereo isn't charging for the content in this case.

Quote:
Do they compress it and re-encode it, or does the DVR they rented me.
The encode it to MPEG4, recompress it, encrypt it, then send it to you. In other words, they are creating a medium that didn't exist before. If they simply passed on the MPEG2 ATSC signal, then provided a box to re-encode it for streaming to your device, then you would be doing it.

Quote:
If I'm allowed to buy all the gear and do it for myself... how can they possibly be liable for being a hardware rental company.
Because they are doing it for money and for mass numbers of people. OTA is free and you have the rights under fair use to record, store, copy or view the content you legally obtain in any way you choose for your own personal use.

Quote:
It sounds like your saying they are storing this content on servers... then selling that content to me, which isn't what it sounds like from the limited info we have.
Yes, they are, in two ways:


1) The most obvious is by providing DVR service. That means they are storing copies of live network broadcasts for viewers and charging to access them. They are also being kept in a proprietary format that does not allow you to move them off the DVR for your own personal use, should you discontinue the service. If you don't pay, your recordings go away.


2) In order to compress, re-encode and buffer the stream, it has to be stored - even if only temporarily. Further, if they allow you to record a show from the beginning while it's already in progress, that means a longer buffer and more of the show being stored on their system.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by NetworkTV  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24473952


Two problems with this:


1) The streaming media is created before it gets to you, meaning they are changing the content before you get it. You aren't using the content, they are. You are now only the consumer, not the user.


2) How do you explain that they charge as much as Netflix does with all the hundreds of millions they pay out to legally obtain content to stream? Plus they have infrastructure costs. There is no way Aereo isn't charging for the content in this case.

The encode it to MPEG4, recompress it, encrypt it, then send it to you. In other words, they are creating a medium that didn't exist before. If they simply passed on the MPEG2 ATSC signal, then provided a box to re-encode it for streaming to your device, then you would be doing it.

Because they are doing it for money and for mass numbers of people. OTA is free and you have the rights under fair use to record, store, copy or view the content you legally obtain in any way you choose for your own personal use.

Yes, they are, in two ways:


1) The most obvious is by providing DVR service. That means they are storing copies of live network broadcasts for viewers and charging to access them. They are also being kept in a proprietary format that does not allow you to move them off the DVR for your own personal use, should you discontinue the service. If you don't pay, your recordings go away.


2) In order to compress, re-encode and buffer the stream, it has to be stored - even if only temporarily. Further, if they allow you to record a show from the beginning while it's already in progress, that means a longer buffer and more of the show being stored on their system.

Yeah I hear all that... but if they take the content from an antennae only I use... and put it on a DVR that only I use... they aren't doing what you say IMO of course, I don't have a horse in this race. Everything that you say is illegal is what happens if I had to do it myself.... which is apparently legal. I'm not sure HOW it happens at Aereo.... but the individual antennae seem to point towards them not being dumb enough to store the content and redistribute it.


I see your points, it's grey for sure.... and it feels like they are getting a bit of a free lunch on a technicality. There's not a lot of links in the media / ISP content provider chain that haven't been subsidized or gotten a leg up in various ways, I don't personally feel sorry for any of them.


I also completely expect money to get it's way in the end.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by reconlabtech  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24473881


Aereo collects only that content you tell them to collect on an antenna dedicated to you and stored on storage space dedicated to you to play in your own home. A cable company, IP based or other, pays providers for content that is packaged and delivered to you whether you want it or not.
1) That's what Aereo claims, but they have yet to publicly prove a) their antenna system isn't a single array with a splitter. b) that they aren't simply recording one copy to provide to their users. If I were the networks, I would demand they prove it. Until someone besides Aereo verifies it, we're taking the defendant's word for it. "Really, I didn't push the guy off the roof - he just fell..."


2) OTA provides the content to you whether you want it or not. Just because you turn off your TV, doesn't mean it isn't there. I hate game shows, but they're beaming through my walls and my body right now even if I'm not watching it.

Quote:
Why would I want to pay for Aereo? I never said that I did. I was simply looking for a simple, objective view of the difference between Slingbox and Aereo.
You sound like you're a fan, so I assumed you either had the service or wanted it. I feel I've outlined the difference.

Quote:
OTA is a broadcast, unencrypted transmission that is paid for by advertisers. If Aereo stripped out the ads, I could see where there might be a problem but the ads are there so this seems to be an attempt to extract more money because there is a large pot of it available to claim is yours.
OTA is a copyrighted broadcast package of shows that the networks pay companies for the rights to air. The copyright notices clearly state that redistribution, retransmission or duplication of the content without permission is a violation of that copyright. However, the government has deemed that individuals who legally obtain that content can record, store and view that content in various ways beyond the way it was provided originally. In other words, the spirit of the law lets you do it in your own home. Aereo is trying to capitalize on the straight letter of the law by assuming businesses are included in that.


They sell commercials as a way to recoup the costs associated with providing the free OTA broadcast. The fees they charge cable and satellite operators are for a) the value they add to customers of those services (satellite really took off when they added the locals) b) to pay for ever increasing costs of programming that advertising is paying less of as the market gets saturated by other options to buy ad time and c) to secure future revenue as ad dollars continue to decrease relative to the increase in programming costs.


In a nutshell: the content is either leased or owned by the networks to be presented in specific ways and they have every right to protect that investment as well as capitalize on available markets to make money. Their stockholders demand it.
Quote:
EDIT: In fact, let me be clearer - Aereo is paid simply to give you access to your own OTA antenna and record any captured signals from that antenna and store it in space you pay for so that you can stream that content to your own home or your own devices capable of receiving and decoding that stream. If you don't pay Aereo, you have no access to that antenna or storage space. They don't sell/rent you any content, just a private means to capture and view broadcast content.


As for re-encoding that captured signal - that's a strawman. Slingbox does the same thing.
That is not true.


The OTA signal can be plugged directly into your TV. It's an unencrypted MPEG2 ATSC signal. What you get from Aereo has been radically altered from its original form.


They are providing the signal that goes to your internet device. With a Sling Box, all you get is the hardware. It is up to you to bring the content in use the box to convert it yourself.


The only way that Aereo can credibly say they aren't charging for the content is to charge a flat fee to obtain an antenna and storage space so you can stream the content for free.
 

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OTA "can" be plugged directly into a digital TV, sure. Very few people actually do that.


There are several ATSC DVRs for sale that provide re-encoding to output to the device you wish to use to view your recordings.


Tivo DVRs do this. You have to pay Tivo or you can't watch your content. By your definition...


Slingbox re-encodes the signal to stream it to you on your computer or smartphone.


The argument boils down to money. All other arguments are semantics.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by NetworkTV  /t/1521968/aereo-wins-some-loses-some#post_24473804


In your scenario, you are still only providing the hardware. You are not supplying the content.


Aereo is providing the content. You can't get it (live streaming content) any other way unless you buy a slingbox, hook up an antenna yourself and send it to your own device. The content you receive from the stations is ATSC MPEG2 video that can be decoded by any current TV or tuner box at no charge beyond the cost of the equipment, your ISP costs and the electricity.


Aereo is re-encoding the signal, transcoding and compressing it to MPEG4, encrypting it, then sending it out to people who pay. Once you stop paying, you get cut off. If they charged a one-time fee to "buy" the remote equipment and gave the service for free (kind an Ooma style of business), they might actually have a lock to the win. Since they charge a monthly fee that is as much as a service like Netflix (which legally buys millions of dollars of content each month), they can't credibly claim it's all maintenance costs.
I experimented with transcoding and compressing my recorded files for a while. Encryption too. It's not illegal when I do it. So why should it be illegal if I were doing it using hardware and software provided by them? Granted, it would be odd for me to choose to have my files stored in a way that I can't use them easily. But if I wanted to make that dumb choice, I'm free to do so.


And of course when you stop paying you lose access to your recorded shows. If my parents stopped paying me (in my hypothetical situation where they were actually paying me), they'd lose access too: when I took the hard drive back.


I fully agree that they can't claim that the fee is only covering maintenance costs. Most of it is profit. That's how businesses work. Most of the money my parents pay that guy that cuts their grass isn't going to fuel and equipment either. It's going to beer. And he can get away with over-charging for his service, just like Aereo, for a while. That'll all change when some competition comes to town.


For the record, I have no dog in this fight. I happen to think Aereo is stupid. Why would I pay someone for a degraded signal when I can get a clean one for free? But if my neighbor wants to throw his money away paying someone to do what he could easily do better himself, that's fine by me. Thanks for the reply though. You're definitely making me think.
 
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