Aereo looks to Congress for a lifeline

Days after Aereo suspended its service in response to a Supreme Court ruling against the company, the service is now calling on consumers to protest the disruption.

In a letter, Aereo chief executive Chet Kenojia said its customers had been asking what they could do now that Aereo has been shuttered:

Today, I'm asking you to raise your hands and make your voices heard. 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. Show them you care about this issue.

Asking the public to pressure Congress is likely a prelude to a broader effort aimed at getting lawmakers to rewrite the Copyright Act, analysts say. It's the Copyright Act that got Aereo into hot water in the first place; the Supreme Court held that the company's online TV streams constituted a "public performance" that Aereo had to pay broadcasters for.

Aereo would likely want Congress to clarify the difference between a public and a private performance. Assuming Congress agreed to do it their way, it would make a service such as Aereo's, which records TV shows on tiny individual antennas and plays them back to its customers over the Web, a legal product.

So generating some grassroots support for Aereo ahead of time makes sense. But getting Congress to consider rewriting the Copyright Act, let alone write it in a way that's favorable to Aereo, will be an uphill struggle.

"I think it's a spur for Congress to think about how to accommodate online video in the 20-year-old pay-TV framework, and I think they will eventually do that," said Paul Gallant, a telecom analyst at Guggenheim Securities. "The question is, will it happen quickly enough for Aereo? The answer is, I'm skeptical that it would."

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.



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Brian Fung · July 1, 2014