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April 24. 2013 2:08AM

Broadcast TV-over-Internet service Aereo to be launched in NH

Southern New Hampshire is about to become part of an expanding battleground over the future of broadcast television, as an Internet startup on Tuesday announced plans to bring its online TV technology to Greater Boston.

Aereo has offered online streaming of broadcast channels in the metropolitan New York City area for the past year. The company expects to start service in eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire by mid-May, as part of an expansion to 22 other U.S. markets in 2013.

"Our largest office is in Boston, so it made a lot of sense that it would be our first city outside of New York," said Aereo spokeswoman Virginia Lam.

The company offices on Summer Street house about 60 employees, mostly engineers and hardware developers, Lam said. Marketing, customer care, public relations and business development are based at offices in Long Island and Brooklyn.

Aereo combines old-fashioned antenna technology with cloud-based computing to assign each customer a dime-sized antenna that captures digital broadcast signals and transmits them in high-definition quality. Instead of being on each rooftop, the antennas are stored in a three-dimensional array in offices close to the signal source.

The signal is then transmitted to a virtual DVR in the "cloud," from which programs can be viewed as they are broadcast or saved for later viewing. Consumers can pause, rewind and fast-forward as well.



Court battle



An alliance of broadcast networks and cable companies, including CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC, sued in New York last year to block the Aereo startup in the metropolitan area.

The broadcasters claim that Aereo is stealing their signal and making money without compensating them for their programming. Aereo customers pay anywhere from $1 a day for the service.

Aereo argues that it is capturing signals that are broadcast over public airwaves in a manner that has always been available to consumers with rooftop antennas. The only difference is that Aereo is hosting the antenna, providing DVR services and charging a fee.

The networks failed to obtain an injunction blocking the launch of the service while their lawsuit works its way through the courts, setting the stage for a trial.

The key legal point is whether Aereo's service constitutes a public performance, which would violate copyright law, or a private viewing.

"We remain confident that our technology falls squarely within the law," said Lam. "Our core focus is now with our expansion and rolling out to the next round of cities."



Fox threatens big move



Chas Carey, chief operating officer for the Fox Network, said Fox would go off the air and strictly on cable if the broadcasters do not eventually prevail in court. "We need to be able to be fairly compensated for our content," he told Bloomberg News on April 9. "This is not an ideal path we look to pursue, but we can't sit idly by and let an entity steal our signal. We will move to a subscription model if that's our only recourse."

Aereo technology threatens to overturn the revenue model for the television and cable industry, which pays substantial fees for retransmission rights to broadcast signals.
Six N.H. counties

Whether Aereo will survive the months of court challenges and appeals that lie ahead remains to be seen. But beginning May 15, consumers in Southern New Hampshire who have pre-registered online at aereo.com will have a chance to experience the technology first-hand.

After May 30, Aereo plans to offer membership across the Boston designated market area, which includes more than 4.5 million consumers in 16 counties in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The New Hampshire counties in the coverage area are Belknap, Cheshire, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Rockingham and Strafford.

Subscribers will have access to 28 over-the-air broadcast channels, including all major networks; some special interest channels, such as the Country Network, PBS Kids, Ion and Qubo; and Spanish-language broadcast channels Univision and Telemundo.

dsolomon@unionleader.com