U.S. Senator speaks in favor of Aereo

May 14, 2013, 4:27 PM EDT
Reuters/ Kevin Lamarque

By Ira Teinowitz

May 14 (TheWrap.com) - A second senator warned Tuesday that any effort by Fox or CBS to move content from broadcast channels to cable to prevent Aereo from profiting from retransmitting the signal of broadcast stations should result in government penalties.

During a subcommittee hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee into current issues in video, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), pointed out that broadcasters access valuable spectrum that they received for free from the government.

Warner cited an April 8 threat by News Corp president-COO Chase Carey to move Fox programming to cable if a legal fight to stop Aereo from retransmitting TV stations signal without paying retransmission fees.

Warner said he understands that the industry faces a number of challenges and concerns as the method for delivering content undergoes major changes.

"On one hand, I absolutely understand your concerns about piracy and content," Warner told representatives of the broadcast and cable industry. "On the other, when I heard Mr. Carey say recently that if [Aereo] continues, they may take their signal off broadcast and put it on cable … that raises a real concern for me.

"Your broadcasters have public spectrum you got for free. You all have had this spectrum for free and are threatening to withdraw content because of these other challenges. It really raises questions to me about whether you ought to be able to keep this spectrum for free and maybe whether it might better used for other purposes," said Warner.

The Democrat's comments came a week after Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain offered legislation that would take similar action.

Gordon H. Smith, the president-CEO of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, suggested the right answer was to retain the copyright system.

"The thing Congress can do is to be faithful to what is as old as our country, which includes copyright. If you have copyrighted material, the rights go with you and that deserves compensation, however you use it," he said.

"It seems to me if someone takes copyrighted material, distributes it, charges for it and does not do what other [cable systems] do -- -that's called piracy."

McCain also testified to the subcommittee Tuesday, but he suggested legislation that would allow viewers to choose a la carte choices of cable channels and only pay for channels they watched.

"The fact is that the majority of Americans have no interest in sports programming and shouldn't be charged for them," said McCain.

"A lot of consumers are fed up with their cable bill," said McCain. He said consumers who can walk into a restaurant and, pick and choose what they want, should get the same option on their cable bill.

The panel also heard R. Stanton Dodge, executive VP and general counsel of Dish Network, warn about broadcasters attempt to stop its Hopper technology.

"Our set top boxes are really computers. If we make a transitory copy [of a TV show], should that be an additional royalty to the copyright owners, I put forth not. If you pay one royalty in the beginning, then consumers should be able to do what they would like with the content," he said.

The panel is preparing to to begin considering legislation later this year.

Congress needs to reauthorize the Satellite Television and Extension Act, a law which sets procedures for satellite DBS companies.

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