Technology and Politics

I try not to talk politics in my public comments, but those of you who know me, know that I have an opinion.  Recently I saw two decisions from our Supreme Court which taken together left me a bit perplexed.  The first one is Aereo, in this ruling I believe that the Supreme Court has decided to cave to the money of the cable lobby.  If you are not familiar with Aereo this startup company tried to address the problems with rebroadcasting rules, but providing a rental charge for a small HD antenna in a city and then letting a consumer get access to the over the air broadcasts that the antenna captures.  In order to address concerns about rebroadcasting content, there was a one for one ratio between antennas and subscribers.  You would then receive the content over the internet from your antenna on the device of your choice.  Given the minimal cost of the antennas I felt this was a very creative approach to let consumers who are cord cutters to get access to the content they want without requiring them to get special permission to put an antenna on their apartment buildings in big cities.  A few years ago, I was on an assignment with my day job and lived in a highrise apartment building with an exclusive monopoly for access to TV.  Basically the windows didn’t open and you couldn’t put out your own antenna, so if you wanted TV you had to pay for cable.  So my read on this ruling is that the Supreme court is trying to reinforce an existing de facto monopoly.

Years ago, as an undergrad in Journalism, I had a professor who was an expert testifying to congress on matters of cable law.  It was one of my favorite classes, and it was in this class that I learned how our open broadcast system was being turned into private monopolies thru local deals between cable companies and local governments.  Originally, cable was setup to give people in remote areas access to the broadcast signals which were economically not viable for building towers.  Similar to Aereo, early cable companies used new technology to reach consumers who could not access broadcast signals. They would use public right of ways (the area where they laid their cables in the ground) as a means for extending the reach of those signals. Today our public right of way is the Internet.  I find it disappointing that the Supreme Court didn’t see it this way.

The second ruling which surprised me was the cell phone warrant ruling.  In a 9-0 ruling the supreme court ruled that the police can’t search your smart phone without a warrant (I am sure it is not that simple, but let’s start with that assumption).  The current court has a history of taking away civil liberties and siding on the side of police.  I feel that standing up for the right of unwarranted search is a major victory to keep from eroding more of our civil liberties.  I hope that we quickly get more details on this ruling and that it warrants the faith I have in our system.