The service was Aereo. It captured over-the-air transmissions via thousands of tiny antennas and transmitted the signal via the Internet. The court shut it down because it did not pay broadcasters for retransmitting their signals, as cable companies do.
Because Saugerties is within the range of the New York City media market, I could access the service. It is hard to describe how wonderful it was to be able access the dedicated PBS Kids channel (only available in New York City) and record up to 24 hours of programming onto a private cloud server. No need for a cable box and its associated fees. All that was needed was a mobile device, and you could watch live TV. Aereo provided incredible customer service that responded in minutes via email or Twitter. Their website and apps were user friendly. All this for just $8 a month.
When the Supreme Court ruled against Aereo, I called Time Warner and investigated what they could offer. The best package included Internet and basic cable for $80 — $80without DVR, channels I wanted like PBS Kids, or the ability to watch on other devices. The Time Warner sales rep pondered out loud, “What was so wrong with Aereo that they only charged $8 a month?” I think that off-handed comment perfectly underlines the major problems the United States (and especially rural areas like Saugerties) are having in competing for premium services, be it electricity, Internet access, or even being able to watch television without having to fork over a huge sum of money for mediocre service. Aereo was able to operate as far north as Saugerties, so it possible that we could have better access, if not for the power of monopolies and corporatism.
The morning Aereo shut down, I sat and watched as the screen paused, stuck at 39 percent. To be honest I actually cried out of frustration. The stalemate of what we are going through as a society suddenly became more real to me. I was being denied an excellent service because of a variety of issues that have been kicked around since George Bush campaigned in 2000: antiquated tech infrastructure, a legal system that does not know how to deal with services like Aereo or Netflix, corporate control that limits choice… the list goes on.
I remember when broadband became available in Saugerties in 2000, and I convinced my father to install it. It was so fast my poor computer could not handle it. Access to broadband was a major election issue in 2000. Yet, some 14 years later, while superficially it may seem we have progressed with cloud storage, social media and a plethora of mobile devices, we are still far behind other nations like France, Dubai and Korea.
Alan Greczynski, a former Saugerties resident who now lives in Dubai, gets much faster speeds at a cheaper rate. He said speeds were even faster in Korea, where “you can download a movie in five seconds.”
In France, “bundles” are available that include phone, Internet, and TV for roughly $40 USD. The speeds offered for Internet are four times faster than anything offered by cable companies here, such as Time Warner or Comcast. I am sure France’s telecommunications are heavily subsidized, but why is there more competition and better offerings in these nations than in America?
To help answer my questions, I reached out to Assemblyman Peter Lopez. He sees the Internet as a utility much like electricity and feels it should be regulated as such. Regulating the Internet would be advantageous for businesses, allow better access and contribute greatly to the economy. This made me think of Apple’s huge data center it recently built in the rural North Carolina or even the massive NSA data center in Utah. If Saugerties was more competitive in regards to tech capabilities, would we be offered such opportunities?
The technology is available. Apple and Aereo were able to do business in rural areas like Saugerties. It is about government policy clearing the path to make these technologies more readily accessible to consumers. Following Bush’s push for rural access to telecommunications, companies like Comcast have offered low-income access to the Internet — minimal speeds for a small fee. Comcast is offering this in hopes the FCC will approve its merger with Time Warner. The same logic applies to the broadcasters who lease the public airwaves by saying they will offer basic service for low cost. Yet, when a service like Aereo dares to enter the market, the broadcasters sue them out of business and cling desperately to their old business model.
As a young person, these are very trying times. Things we grew up expecting are breaking down — the economy, the expectation that a college education would yield a good job, having access to the best products and infrastructure. It is devastating to see failings of America, where competition and advancement are being sued out of existence in favor of monopolies and market stagnation. Even though Saugerties is — in the eyes of Time Warner — a waste of resources, I hope I made a compelling enough argument to show that we are as worthy of an Apple data center as Maiden, North Carolina was. But I think Saugerties as a community will have to take that initiative, and think of ways to increase our tech value in a way that exemplifies the virtues of our community.
Sarah Dahman’s column appears monthly