Before cable companies monetized television, TV-viewing was free–signals floating happily along the airwaves and all you needed was a good antenna. My father installed the mother of all antennae on the roof of our house. The antenna could be manipulated by this little dial box if you needed to improve reception. Worked like a charm. Then came cable, and suddenly we found ourselves beholden to big conglomerates who nickel and dime us for every channel.
In actual fact, I don’t watch much TV, except HBO. In Canada, however, we can only get HBO through a $20 add-on to our cable subscription. (In the States, they can access HBO via the internet–called HBO GO–at a minimal cost and without the necessity of a cable package.) Having the $20 add-on means that my cable bill would be well over $100 a month, even with a basic cable package. And when you add the cost of movie rentals and a netflicks subscription, you’re paying a lot more for television than you want to be.
The Cable-Killer, aka Android Box
That’s when friends of mine told me about the Android TV box. For a one-time cost of a few hundred dollars for the box and remote, you can access television and movies via the internet. With the android system, virtually every tv show or movie ever made is available to you, at no extra cost. The downside is that the quality varies–some movies and shows are crystal clear, while others look like they were recorded using Grandpa’s old Super 8. Since you’re given hundreds of options to watch your particular selection, you usually can find one of fairly good viewing quality.
So I cancelled my cable subscription and am now meeting all of my television-viewing needs via my little android box. And the pièce de la résistance–I can get HBO without a cable subscription and without paying an extra subscription fee.
You may be wondering (I certainly was) whether this is legal, and why the cable companies allow it. This is where it gets interesting.
The Canadian Cable companies went to court as recently as July of this year, asking for an injunction against several vendors for selling boxes which they believe pirate their programming signal and have caused them financial distress (yeah, right). However, the vendors claim that “the pre-loaded set-top boxes are a piece of hardware, operating in the same manner as a tablet or a computer, on which anyone can install applications which are freely available to the public though the Apple Store, Google Play or the Internet.” (Interestingly, the cable companies are only going after small operators: Amazon, which has been selling android boxes for awhile, have yet to be targeted for litigation).
The other key to whether one get sued or not is whether the vendors advertise the boxes as “free TV.” Those that do, get sued; those that don’t, fall under the radar.
While the cable companies and android box venders duke it out in court, people like me can continue to enjoy the freedom our little android box brings. And there’s no pleasure like the pleasure derived from giving the middle finger salute to cable.