By Michael Phillips, The New Yorker Blog, January 15, 2014
| Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by | America's largest broadcast television networks -- CBS, NBC, Fox, | ABC, PBS, and others -- against Aereo, a startup backed by the | media mogul Barry Diller that makes broadcast television available | over the Internet for a low monthly fee. It sounds dramatic, but | the case, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., et al. v. Aereo, | Inc., may determine the future of television. | | Although it conjures images of rabbit-ear antennas sitting on a | dusty, boxy TV, over-the-air broadcast television is no relic; | millions of Americans still rely on it. Local television stations, | like WNBC New York, are allowed to transmit programming over | valuable public airwaves on the condition that the signals are free | for the public to pick up with an antenna. Aereo has built large | antenna arrays, comprising thousands of dime-sized, adorable | antennae, in order to capture those signals. Each antenna receives, | and transmits over the Internet, the signal for a single Aereo | subscriber, who can then watch live over-the-air broadcast | television -- or record it with cloud storage, which Aereo | provides, to view later -- on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.[snip]
| Paradoxically, Aereo's case may endanger the public spectrum that | the company claims to be defending. As Aereo put it in its petition | brief before the Supreme Court, "The essential bargain that [the | industry] made to obtain, for free, public spectrum worth billions | of dollars was that, once they have broadcast their programming, | consumers have a right to receive and to view that programming | using an antenna and to copy that programming for their personal | use." For advocates of the public commons, who think that the | airwaves should be as free for the public as the sun's rays, that | is true enough. Whether Aereo can simultaneously champion the | public airwaves and profit handsomely from them is now a question | for the Supreme Court.
The last paragraph of this post (reproduced above after the snip) encapsulates the core issue at stake here. I've been following the Aereo case carefully, and I have found no other article that summarizes this core issue so precisely.