Aereo on an IPhone
(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
June 25, 2014

Aereo's TV Streaming Service Is Illegal, Supreme Court Says

Aereo, the company that lets subscribers watch TV stations' video that it routes onto the Internet, violates U.S. copyright law, the Supreme Court has ruled. The court's 6-3 decision reverses a lower court ruling on what has been a hotly contested issue.

"So serious is the economic threat that two major networks, CBS and Fox, have said they would consider abandoning over-the-air free broadcasting if they lose," NPR's Nina Totenberg reported when the case was argued in April, "and instead broadcast only on pay cable channels."

The plaintiffs in the case were TV producers, marketers and broadcasters who said Aereo violated their copyrights by streaming programs online without a license. Aereo has defended its business model, saying it pulls in content that is broadcast freely, using many small antennas — one per subscriber — and that it serves the programs up only upon users' requests. The Supreme Court didn't agree with that view.

"Aereo performs petitioners' works publicly," the court ruled. The justices said the company is similar to a cable TV provider, selling a service that "allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, virtually as they are being broadcast."

Update at 12:10 p.m. ET: Companies' Responses

Calling the court's decision "a massive setback for the American consumer," Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia says it is "troubling" to see the majority opinion's suggestion that companies seek action from Congress to clarify how new technology interacts with U.S. copyright laws.

"Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?" Kanojia asks.

The tone was different over at the Walt Disney Co., parent company of ABC, which led the lawsuit.

"We're gratified the Court upheld important Copyright principles," the company said, "that help ensure that the high-quality creative content consumers expect and demand is protected and incentivized."

Update at 10:45 a.m. ET: More From The Court

Now that we've had time to read through more of the opinion, we can add more details.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the court's majority opinion, saying, "Given the limited nature of this holding, the Court does not believe its decision will discourage the emergence or use of different kinds of technologies."

Dissenting in the case were Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. In their opinion, written by Scalia, the justices said TV networks and affiliates who sued Aereo on the grounds that the company performs their works publicly were wrong "because Aereo does not 'perform' at all."

'Unlike video-on-demand services, Aereo does not provide a prearranged assortment of movies and television shows," Scalia wrote. "Rather, it assigns each subscriber an antenna that — like a library card — can be used to obtain whatever broadcasts are freely available."

Congress might look at ways to update the copyright law to take new technological innovations into account, Scalia wrote, "but it is not our job to apply laws that have not yet been written."

Our original post continues:

In March, Chet Kanojia, the founder and CEO of Aereo, told NPR's Elise Hu that his company welcomed the high court's scrutiny — "because it was very obvious that the strategy for the other side was to kill us by suing us in every possible jurisdiction. It's better strategically for us to force the issue now."

He also said his company was a response to out-of-date distribution systems.

"There is no logic in me paying for 500 channels that I don't watch," Kanojia said. "There is no incentive on the incumbents to change, so it takes somebody like us ... to come in and say, this is the trend, life is changing. The Internet is happening to us whether we like it or not."


The future of the Internet is at stake in a case before a D.C. court.
(Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images)
September 09, 2013

Net Neutrality In Court: Here's What You Need To Know

The beauty of the Internet — and the reason for its ubiquitous place in our lives — is that just about anyone can use it to offer services, products or information. But the link between what's out there on the Internet, how fast it gets to us and how much data can get to us is dependent on Internet service providers and the rules that govern them. That's where things get thorny for the principle of net neutrality.

If your eyes are already glazing over, consider this: This debate could affect the speed, quality and cost of your Hulu or Netflix binge-viewing.

Net neutrality is back in the news Monday because a landmark case is getting its day in a D.C. federal court. The case challenges whether the federal government can enforce net neutrality rules. Here's a primer to get you up to speed:

What Is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality refers to the notion that's governed the Internet since the beginning — all Internet users deserve equal access to online information, no matter whether you use Verizon or Comcast. Internet service providers should be "neutral" to the content their customers consume.

The Way Things Are Now

As things are now, the Federal Communications Commission regulates net neutrality by "policing" an open Internet. The current rules, passed in 2010, prevent broadband Internet service providers from blocking lawful content and other Internet services. Time magazine sums up the three rules:

"First, the order requires ISPs to be transparent about how they handle network congestion; second, the ISPs are prohibited from blocking traffic such as Skype or Netflix on wired networks; third, the order outlaws 'unreasonable' discrimination, meaning the ISPs can't put such services into an Internet 'slow lane' in order to benefit their own competing services."

The regulations don't fully cover wireless carriers, something that Internet rights groups aren't pleased with. The FCC says the exemption recognizes that the wireless Internet gets overused because of new customers constantly signing up and that carriers, therefore, need flexibility to put limits on use.

The Politics

President Obama supported net neutrality in his 2008 campaign, and then after he was sworn in, he appointed Julius Genachowski, a net neutrality supporter, as chairman of the FCC.

In December 2010, when the FCC approved a plan to implement the net neutrality regulations, the vote was 3-2, along party lines. Congressional Republicans argue that net neutrality is unnecessary government involvement that stifles innovation; the GOP-controlled House has even voted to strip the FCC of funding for net neutrality enforcement.

The Recent History

For nearly a decade, companies have challenged the net neutrality principle, a move they say better serves their customers.

In 2007, customers accused Comcast of "throttling," or purposely slowing down downloads. Comcast and other companies argued that they needed to discriminate between the bits of information being shared to conserve bandwidth given the growing number of customers on the Web. The FCC cited Comcast, Comcast appealed, and the same court hearing Monday's case decided the FCC didn't prove it had the authority to regulate broadband Internet.

Here's a full timeline from GigaOm.

The Case Before Judges

It's an understatement to say communications companies aren't pleased with existing FCC regulations. Verizon filed suit in federal court to overturn the rules, arguing the FCC overstepped its regulatory authority and that the rules are unnecessary. Verizon points out that the FCC has documented only four examples in the past six years of ISPs' possibly blocking content.

Verizon also said that net neutrality rules violate the First Amendment, since broadband companies transmit the speech of others. That gives the providers "editorial discretion," according to Verizon.

The FCC argues that it has the authority to enforce net neutrality under provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Communications Act of 1934.

Internet rights groups believe the open Internet is what lets companies like Twitter, Facebook and Skype flourish. Supporters say net neutrality prevented existing market players from slowing down or blocking the connections of Skype calls, for instance, to protect their businesses. As The New York Times lays out:

"The F.C.C. ... believes that Internet service providers must keep their pipelines free and open, giving the creators of any type of legal content — movies, shopping sites, medical services, or even pornography — an equal ability to reach consumers. If certain players are able to buy greater access to Internet users, regulators believe, the playing field will tilt in the direction of the richest companies, possibly preventing the next Google or Facebook from getting off the ground."

The three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit are hearing the case now.

The Implications

Advocates of net neutrality fear that if the federal government stops enforcing rules to keep the pipelines free and open, then certain companies will be able to get greater access to Internet users. That, they say, creates a system of haves and have nots — the richest companies could get access to a wider swath of Internet users, for example, and that could prevent the next Google from getting off the ground. GigaOm explains:

"If the courts decide the FCC doesn't have the legal authority to enforce the network neutrality rules, it not only could gut the rules, but it also gives ISPs a free pass to start making decisions about the information aspects of their service — and in today's non-competitive broadband environment — that could mean throttling Netflix or charging Google more money to deliver a clean YouTube stream. It also neuters the agency moving forward when all content will flow as information over broadband pipes — from TV to your doctor visits."

Judges aren't expected to issue a ruling for months. But now you're up to speed.


July 28, 2013

Chinese Firm Huawei Controls UK's Net Filter

The pornography filtering system praised by David Cameron is controlled by the controversial Chinese company Huawei, the BBC has learned.

UK-based employees at the firm are able to decide which sites TalkTalk's net filtering service blocks.

Politicians in both the UK and US have raised concerns about alleged close ties between Huawei and the Chinese government.

The company says the worries are without foundation and prejudiced.

On Monday the Prime Minister said TalkTalk had shown "great leadership" in setting up its system, Homesafe, which it has offered to customers since 2011.

TalkTalk told the BBC it was comfortable with its relationship with Huawei, and that the service was very popular.

Homesafe is a voluntary scheme which allows subscribers to select categories - including social media, gambling and pornography - that they want blocked.

Customers who do not want filtering still have their traffic routed through the system, but matches to Huawei's database are dismissed rather than acted upon.

Accountability question

Mr Cameron has demanded similar measures be adopted by all internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK, to "protect our children and their innocence".

He said ISPs would be monitored to ensure filtering was done correctly, but that they should choose their own preferred solution.

However, one expert insisted that private companies should not hold power over blacklists, and that the responsibility should lie with an independent group.

"It needs to be run by an organisation accountable to a minister so it can be challenged in Parliament," Dr Martyn Thomas, chair of the IT policy panel at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, told the BBC.

"There's certainly a concern about the process of how a web address gets added to a blacklist - who knows about it, and who has an opportunity to appeal against it," he added.

"You could easily imagine a commercial organisation finding itself on that blacklist wrongly, and where they actually lost a lot of web traffic completely silently and suffered commercial damage. The issue is who gets to choose who's on that blocking list, and what accountability do they have?"

'Policing themselves'

For almost a decade, Huawei has been a core part of telecoms infrastructure in the UK - its biggest client, BT, has routinely said it has no concerns about using the firm.

Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in China's People's Liberation Army, visited Downing Street last year after his company made a £1.3bn investment into its UK operations.

But Huawei's position was recently the subject of an Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report. It criticized the lack of ministerial oversight over the firm's rapid expansion in the UK.

The committee said "the alleged links between Huawei and the Chinese State are concerning, as they generate suspicion as to whether Huawei's intentions are strictly commercial or are more political" - but added that it had not found any evidence of wrongdoing.

It said it had worries that a UK-based testing centre set up to examine Huawei products was staffed by experts employed by the Chinese firm.

The ISC said Huawei was "effectively policing themselves".

In the US, intelligence committees have gone further, branding Huawei a threat to national security.

For its part, Huawei strongly denies having close ties with the Chinese government, pointing out it is 98.6% owned by its employees - with the remaining amount held by Mr Ren. It welcomed the ISC's call for a review of the testing centre.

Huawei executive Chen Li Fang said the company should not be treated unfairly just because it was Chinese.

The UK government said it too agreed with the ISC's call to review the testing centre, adding that it works with all major communications providers to ensure security.

"Our work with Huawei and their UK customers gives us confidence that the networks in the UK that use Huawei equipment are operated to a high standard of security and integrity," a spokesman said.

Policy enforcement

Web filtering, which is not considered critical national infrastructure, was not covered in the ISC's report.

But the logistics of how Mr Cameron's plans will be implemented have been the subject of much debate.

Initially, TalkTalk told the BBC that it was US security firm Symantec that was responsible for maintaining its blacklist, and that Huawei only provided the hardware, as previously reported.

However, Symantec said that while it had been in a joint venture with Huawei to run Homesafe in its early stages, it had not been involved for over a year.

TalkTalk later confirmed it is Huawei that monitors activity, checking requests against its blacklist of over 65 million web addresses, and denying access if there is a match.

The contents of this list are largely determined by an automated process, but both Huawei and TalkTalk employees are able to add or remove sites independently.

Illegal websites - including ones showing images of child abuse - are blocked for all customers with the help of a list maintained by the non-profit Internet Watch Foundation.

Mr Cameron said that the actions of ISPs would be monitored to ensure filtering is done correctly.

Communications regulator Ofcom is expected to play some role in this, possibly by auditing the firms and reporting back to ministers regularly.


News-Gazette
(Sean Powers/WILL)
June 25, 2013

News-Gazette Charging for Online Material

The Champaign News-Gazette is now charging readers who read a certain number of articles on its website.

Those who click on the newspaper’s own material - reading more than eight of what it calls ‘premium articles’ in a month’s time - will now require a paid subscription. 

Amounts vary depending on whether someone already subscribes to the print edition.

Publisher John Foreman calls this additional source of revenue needed in an industry that is under a lot of financial pressure. He said this is a logical way to recoup some costs, and he does not expect a backlash from those already using the paper.

“The idea that a subscriber would pay a dollar or two more to also have the online access is pretty widely accepted," he said. "And then most papers pick up a few thousand new subscribers who subscribe to online only – and we’ve structured it in such a way that somebody who glances at us casually now and again is not going to incur any costs.”

Those who receive the print edition, and pay via debit card are now charged $1.49 a month for full online access to the paper, while all other print subscribers will pay a dollar more. 

Non-subscribers are charged $7.99 a month for the online edition.

Foreman said the newspaper does noy have a specific financial goal for the online content. 

"It helps us to maintain the strength of our journalistic enteprise, no question," he said. "Whether it contributes $1,000 of the bottom line or $10,000 of the bottom line, we hire a lot of professional journalists. We like to keep them on the payroll, and hope they will produce good journalism for the community.  Will it contribute to that?  Yes indeed it will."

Foreman said almost as many come to the website per day as the News-Gazette has print subscribers.


The word is misspelt because Sir Tim demonstrated the web's editing functions.
(Paul Jones)
May 24, 2013

Online Appeal Unearths Historic Webpage

A search to recover the very first web page has unearthed a relic from 1991.

The page turned up after Cern launched a public appeal for files, hardware and software from the web's earliest days.

The original page is missing because the web's creators did not preserve the early work they did on what has become a historic document.

Unfortunately, other potential finds from the same era on that old computer remain hidden because the password for it has been forgotten.

Demo mode

Cern, where web creators Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau carried out their early work, launched its project to recover artefacts and documents from those earliest days in late April. The information it discovers will be used to create an online exhibit that lets people experience what the web used to be like.

The files and data for those first pages have been lost because of the way the men worked as they were developing the technology.

"When they updated they just replaced and over-wrote the file," said Dan Noyes, web manager at Cern's communications group. In addition, he said, the pair had no idea that what they were doing would be so influential and saw no need to keep copies.

Work on the web began in 1989 and the first webpage was put together in 1990 but, said Mr Noyes, there is no copy of that page at Cern. The oldest copies it has date from 1992.

The public appeal to recover it has borne fruit, he said, as it has unearthed a copy of the webpage demonstrated by Sir Tim in 1991 as he was trying to drum up support for the idea of the world wide web.

In those days, said Mr Noyes, Sir Tim carried round a disk on which he had built a demonstration of how the web would work. He had to do it that way because back then net connections were not as ubiquitous as they are now.

Thankfully one of the people he showed it to while in the US for the Hypertext 91 conference kept a copy. This was largely because, said Mr Noyes, he had one of the same types of machine, a Next computer, that Sir Tim used for the demo.

One of the words in the opening lines of the demo page is scrambled because Sir Tim demonstrated the live editing capabilities of the web to Paul Jones - owner of the Next computer on which the page was preserved.

There might well be more relics from the web's earliest days on Mr Jones' machine, he said, but for the moment they remain hidden because the password for the computer's hard drive has been forgotten.

However, he said, work was underway to recover the password and get at the files on the drive.

In addition, said Mr Noyes, Cern staff are now going through the huge mass of material and offers gathered from the public appeal.

"It's a little bit overwhelming," he said. "We have so much stuff to look at."


February 15, 2013

Durbin Revives Bill to Bring Sales Tax to Internet

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says a compromise with House lawmakers ensures broad-based support for his bill to help brick-and-mortar retailers compete against out-of-state Internet sellers.

Internet sellers do not have to collect state sales taxes, except in the state in which they are they are physically located. That means brick-and-mortar stores at a disadvantage, as more and more shopping happens online.

Durbin told reporters that Illinois storeowners frequently tell him how they have been “devastated” by the tax advantage for internet retailers.

“Bob Naughtrip, who owned a store that was known as Soccer Plus in Illinois; he was losing large sales to local sports teams regularly, because his online competitors could offer a discount, regularly, of about $10,000. Eventually it put Bob out of business,” Durbin said. “This isn’t just happening in Illinois. It’s happening across the country.”

Under the Marketplace Fairness Act, online retailers would be required to collect sales and use taxes for any state that agrees to simplified administration and collection of those taxes. Online retail groups have said in the past they could accept such a measure.

Durbin said that by agreeing to some details of a House version of his Marketplace Fairness bill, he is able to unite a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers of Congress behind his bill, which languished during the previous session.

Durbin’s bill has the endorsement of one major online retailer --- Amazon.


August 23, 2012

UC2B Organizer: Urbana 'Jumping Gun' with GM

One of the main organizers behind the Champaign-Urbana’s big broadband project says Urbana is jumping the gun with its desire to hire a general manager.

The University of Illinois’ Mike Smeltzer is responding to part of a resolution approved by the Urbana City Council this week. 

He contends that such a person would only be needed when more is determined about UC2B’s organizational structure. Smeltzer said Champaign Economic Development Manager Teri Legner is handling those duties right now, and should, since Champaign is the project’s lead agency.

"It seems a little silly for the city of Champaign to hire a second person to do the job they've already assigned to an existing employee," he said. "Long term, I think they're also jumping the gun it terms of the organizational structure of UC2B. Today, it's an intergovernmental consortium with three members.  In the future, it may become something else."

Smeltzer said it could make sense to hire a general manager if UC2B becomes a non-profit organization. 

Urbana alderwoman Diane Marlin said she is not trying to criticize what people like Smeltzer are doing, but believes UC2B customers need a single point person they can contact.

"I very much respect everything Champaign is doing, yes they're the lead agency," she said.  "But they've got a lot on their plate, and a lot to handle with the rest of the build out. I think having a manager on board is a responsible way to go as providing the kind of customer service that we need to be doing."

Smeltzer confirms that a handful of homes in Champaign just west of Wright Street went on line this week.

Urbana’s resolution is expected to go before the Champaign City Council soon.


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